Google has avoided death by genericide for now—but not these brands

Google has avoided death by genericide for now—but not these brands
[Animation: Courtesy of Google]

You may use the word “google” every time you need to look up how to bathe a hedgehog or look up the meaning of “Mamihlapinatapai” on the internet, but today the U.S. Supreme Court indicated that the term “google” is still a protected trademark.


The nation’s highest court declined Monday to review a petition filed by an enterprising businessman named Chris Gillespie, who had registered 763 domain names that included the word “google,” according to Ars Technica. When Google pointed out the trademark infringement, Gillespie claimed Google’s trademarks had become victims of “genericide.” Basically, he argued that “google” had become too generic—synonymous with the term “search the internet”—and should no longer qualify for trademark protection. He claimed that, “there is no single word other than google that conveys the action of searching the Internet using any search engine.”

The justices set aside the petition without comment, which means that for now anyway, Google will keep its trademark. However, there is a chance that at some point Google will become a victim of its own success and “google” could be deemed generic.  It’s a fate that words like Kleenex, Xerox, bubble wrap, jet ski, dumpsters, windbreaker, adrenalin, even seeing eye dogs are desperately fighting against. But genericization is also something that has happened before, a lot. Words like trampoline, escalator, and aspirin were all trademarks once. Even heroin was a trademark that went generic (we’ll wait here while you Bing that).

Behold just a few of the many, many now-common words that were once the private property of a corporation.

Zip Code, formerly owned by the U.S. Postal Service

Teleprompter, trademarked by the TelePrompTer Company

Escalator, Otis Elevator Co. trademarked the term in 1900

Thermos, created by Sir James Dewar and put into commercial use by Thermos LLC.

Cellophane, chemist Jacques E. Brandenberger trademarked the term in 1912

Dry ice, owned by the DryIce Corporation

Aspirin, formerly owned by Bayer

Linoleum, Frederick Walton, the Linoleum inventor, never trademarked its mark when he first created it in 1864.

Zipper, originally registered by B.F. Goodrich

TV dinner, created by C.A. Swanson and Sons

Laundromat, owned by Westinghouse Electric

Videotape, originally trademarked by Ampex Corporation

App Store, Apple started it, but abandoned it in 2013 after a years-long legal tussle with Amazon, which had started its own app store.