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Why you should never use your brand name as a noun or verb


If you forget your elementary school grammar, a noun is  “a word (other than a pronoun) used to identify any of a class of people, places, or things common noun, or to name a particular one of these proper noun.”  Whereas, an adjective is “a word or phrase naming an attribute, added to or grammatically related to a noun to modify or describe it.”  A trademark is meant to be an indicia of source, meaning, you know the source of what you buy because of the trademark on the package, and so you can have a reasonable expectation as to the quality of your purchase based on past experience with that brand. Trademarks describe a thing, and that's why they are adjectives.

Generic things are what are listed on the grocery store aisle signs, “bread, canned vegetables, juices, cereal.” Brands are unique suppliers of those generic things, with their own quality and personality different from their competitors. You probably have some of your own favorite brands and you prefer that brand of goods or services over other goods and services by competing brands. For example, a Mercedes is understood to be a certain luxury brand car, but not a generic term for cars, or even types of cars. Chrysler doesn't make Mercedes sedans, they are different brands of cars. 

Companies can get into trouble when their name becomes synonymous with the generic term for the thing that they provide. Generic things are not allowed to be trademarked, and when a term becomes generic, the USPTO may cancel their trademark. For example, Xerox has fought to keep their trademark alive because many people use their trademark to refer to the action of photocopying, or the term for a photocopy machine. We say “I’m going to go xerox this document” which sounds like “xeroxing” is an action, a verb. “Xerox” has even made it’s way into the dictionary as a synonym for photocopying. But it’s not a generic term, it’s a brand name and they want to keep it that way. The Xerox company has gone so far as to put out many ads about how to use their trademark so they don’t lose it to genericide. You will never see Xerox using their name that way, they will say something like,  “the best digital copies are made on a Xerox photocopy machine.” Notice that they use the generic term for what they sell after their trademark name? That is good Trademark hygiene right there. They have had to be very cautious about distinguishing between general photocopy machines which could be made by a number of different brands, and a Xerox photocopy machine, which of course they want to promote as being the best.

Tips for good Trademark hygiene:

  1. Capitalize your mark, but not the goods or services it applies to “Xerox photocopy machine” “Kleenex tissue” “Google search engine.” Capitalizing is used for proper names after all, but not for regular words.

  2. Use your mark as an adjective not a noun or a verb. Never “just google it” or “go xerox it.” Instead, “use a Band-Aid brand bandage” so people know that your brand is not synonymous with the goods or services you offer.

  3. Make sure your trademark is registered with the USPTO and put a monitoring and enforcement strategy in place.

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