Lots of the names we used to describe entire groups of products were, once upon a time, trade marks for a specific brand that ended up becoming genericised and basically anyone could legally call their product by that name. “Aspirin” is probably the best known example, but there’s others like “Cellophane” too.
There’s heaps of trademark names people use to refer to all products of a similar type - “Coke” for any cola soft drink, “Chapstick” for any lip balm, “Stetson” for any cowboy hat, “Thermos” for any vacuum flask; you get the idea. That’s what regular people call them in everyday use, but they’re not legally usable by other companies - you can’t market your cowboy hat as a “Stetson”, for example, and calling your cola drink “Coke” is not going to turn out well legally either.
I’d be interested to know when the last time a trademark actually became legally genericised - as in, when it was officially determined that “Widget” referred to all of the objects (technically known as thingymajigs) which people call widgets, and not just Widget Brand thingymajigs?
Let me just clarify: I’m specifically not asking about “trademarked/brand names we all use as generic terms for similar products” like how every MP3 player was referred to as “an iPod” before standalone MP3 players stopped being a thing, or how we all refer to searching for something on the internet as “Googling”.
I’m talking about situations where the trademarked/brand name has legally lost its protection - like, say, if a court decided that (as a hypothetical) “Velcro” was, in fact, a common enough term for, well, “velcro” that any “hook and loop fastener” maker can now call their product “velcro” and there’s nothing the people who currently own the trademark to the Velcro brand can do about it.
To set a first benchmark for the precise phenomenon the OP is asking about, I’m throwing in “French press” (a type of coffee maker), which was previously a trade mark but got expunged for genericization in Canada in 2012.
Wikipedia tells us that Bayer had a problem with losing or selling the rights to their trademark in many countries (with Germany losing the war and all), but is Aspirin really legally genericised?
In the U.S. and Canada, Sterling Drug won the auction for Bayer’s assets, including the right to its name and its famous cross-shaped logo, for about $5 million. When generic competitors flooded the market soon thereafter, aspirin also became a generic and unprotected name in the U.S. and some other countries. Bayer managed to retain its trademark in more than 70 other nations, where acetylsalicylic acid is used to refer to the generic form, but the war auctions forced it to sell its own aspirin under a different name for dozens of years in the U.S., the world’s largest market. Finally, in 1994, SmithKline Beecham, the new owners of Sterling Winthrop, sold Bayer’s over-the-counter line back to the company through Bayer’s wholly owned Miles subsidiary–for $1 billion. It was a steep price for Bayer to pay to once again secure worldwide rights to its own name and logo.
Did you look at this list of genericized trademarks linked to in your cite? (ETA: I didn’t notice you linked to part of this page in the OP. Sorry!)
I didn’t follow each link in that list, but they might give you some idea.
(The biggest surprise for me on the list was “videotape.” I had no idea that was once a trademark.)
Unlike copyrights and patents, which expire, trademarks remain active indefinitely, as long as their owners actively use and defend them. It is not the case that once x% of the population starts saying “Coke” when they mean any soda that a court will come in and proclaim the Coca-Cola company has lost the trademark.
ISTM that most of the marks in that list are for products that are either no longer made or are much less popular than they once were, and were probably abandoned for that reason. It also seems that 50+ years ago, some companies were not very energetic about defending their marks.
In more recent times, the importance of branding, and therefore defending a trademark, has become much more widely accepted and understood. Hence is is rarer for a mark to become genericized.
“Aspirin” is definitely genericized. The proof is that you can find aspirin sold under a thousand different brands. The article you have quoted is referring to the brand name “Bayer” and its logo, not aspirin.
Yes, it is. The story, in short, is that during WWI, Bayer’s American assets, including its trademark rights in the Aspirin brand, were confiscated as enemy property and auctioned off to an American company, Sterling. But Sterling was unable to prevent the genericization of the Aspirin brand, which fell into the public domain (they did retain the rights to the “Bayer” brand in the US, though, and made use of that). In the 1990s, Bayer took over Sterling and has since used the “Bayer” brand to market its drug in the US, but they’re unable to monopolise the Aspirin name there. The story is similar in the UK and France, but there are numerous countries where “Aspirin” remains a trademark owned by Bayer (including, unsurprisingly, Germany).
In December the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia upheld a ruling that the Swiss Interprofession du Gruyère and the French Syndicat Interprofessional du Gruyère lost the U.S. “gruyère” trademark due to U.S. consumers not associating the mark with the region (genericide).
Please note that both registered trademarks and unregistered trademarks exist. They were sending cease and desist letters on the basis of claiming an unregistered trademark and they were at the same time trying to register it. But the P.T.O. refused registration.
I think that’s a little different than what the OP is asking about. In that case, the court ruled that the term in question was always insufficiently distinctive to qualify as a trademark. It wasn’t really an established trademark that lost its distinctiveness through genericide.
Including Canada where aspirin is sold by Bayer by that name but by generic drug companies as ASA tablets.
There were other things seized as enemy property. There is a famous math book by the Dutch, but enthusiastic Nazi B. L. van der Warden whose German copyright was seized and an American edition published without copyright notice.