Today is the anniversary of a registered trademark that gave the world an alternative to zippers and buttons: Velcro.
One man’s annoyance can be another man’s eureka. One day, when Swiss inventor George de Mestral returned with his dog from a walk, he noticed that he and his dog were covered with cockleburrs. Instead of being annoyed, he studied the burrs under a microscope where he noted their hook-like shape.
Engineering artificial fasteners that replicated the ones he found in nature took a few years, but Mestral eventually succeeded in creating his easy to use hook and loop fastener. He registered his invention in 1958. For the name of his product, he blended two French terms: “vel” from velvet and “cro” from crochet (little hook).
Today Velcro Industries is a successful international company, but like other successful companies, Velcro is challenged by a paradox: they want people to use their trademarked name as much as possible to promote their product; however, because the name is used so often and the product is so successful and so ubiquitous, the name of the product becomes a generic, non-capitalized word. As a result, companies like Velcro are in a constant battle to protect their trademark and in turn their bottom line. The lines are blurred even more when a word, like Google, becomes used so often that it becomes more than just a noun. No doubt the legal department at Google and the neologism department at the American Heritage Dictionary are both busy tracing the growth and development of this word.
The following statement from the Velcro website is an example of the kinds of reminders and warnings that companies put out to protect their brand names:
The goodwill and integrity which are reflective of the Velcro companies are ingrained in the VELCRO® trademark. This makes the trademark a very valuable asset to the company and to our customers who purchase the VELCRO® brand fasteners.
Many terms that we all use frequently in our everyday language were once trademarks …. All of these terms lost their distinction as trademarks because their owners allowed them to be misused by the public. That’s why the Velcro companies pay close attention to how the VELCRO® trademark is used (1).
As stated by the Velcro website, there are several brand names that were once registered trademarks, but today they have lost their capital letter and entered the dictionary and the English lexicon as generic terms, such as cellophane, escalator, and the yo-yo. Other brands seem generic, but they legally retain their trademarks, such as Kleenex, Jet Ski, Play Dough, Popsicle, and Q-tips.
Today’s Challenge: The Law and the Language
What are some examples of the names of specific products you might buy? Brainstorm a large A to Z list of specific brand names of products. Then, select one of your brand names and research the history of the product and specifically the trademark history of the product’s name. Is the product’s name a registered trademark or is it a generic term? For example, Jacuzzi is the name and registered trademark for the generic term “hot tub spas” or “whirlpool bathtubs” made by the American corporation called Jacuzzi Brands Corporation. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: . . . the average English-speaking adult knows about 40,000 words. The number of active US trademarks is more than thirty times larger than the common English vocabulary. -Christopher Johnson in Microstyle