When Hillary Clinton recently accused presidential rival Barack Obama of political plagiarism by describing him as the candidate of “change you can Xerox“, trademark lawyers at Xerox Corporation winced. For years, Xerox has fought against the genericisation of the Xerox brand and trademark. A genericised trademark is a trademark or brand name that has become the colloquial or generic description for a particular class of product or service. The generic use of the term “Xerox” as a verb in place of the word photocopy, diminishes the value of the Xerox trademark in the marketplace and can result in the loss of intellectual property rights by the trademark holder. In the past, Xerox Corporation has attempted to police its brand use by launching advertising campaigns promoting the “Xerox machine” and has been successful in protecting the trademark in Canada and the United States. The brand has, however, become generic in Russia, Bulgaria, Portugal and Romania. Aspirin, Band-Aid and Thermos are also examples of brands which became victims of brand genericisation.
Under Canadian trademark law, a trademark should never be used as a noun (whether in singular, plural or possessive form) or as a verb. Every day phrases such as “I need a Kleenex” should be discouraged as the correct use of the trademark is “I need a Kleenex tissue”. It may seem natural and even beneficial from a marketing perspective to use the trademark as a noun or verb. Many like to have their trademark considered synonymous with the wares or services with which it is associated. However, certain trademarks, through misuse by their owners and others, have passed into the English language by becoming generic terms. The brands Escalator, Jacuzzi, Linoleum and Tabloid were all once trademarks of a specific product but are now generic terms commonly used to describe a product category. The use of a brand name as part of the English language, or any language should always be avoided to prevent genericisation of the trademark.