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Why Google and iPad (probably) Won’t Become Generic Words

April 10, 2012
Labeled MKW copy machine.

When somebody announces that he is going to "xerox" copies on a non-Xerox machine, does anybody dare to correct him? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You would think a company would be proud if one of its trademarks became a generic word.  Products like Band-Aid and Aspirin and Xerox have become actual words that will live on for generations, even after the founding companies have faded into obscurity.  If I started a company and a trademark became an actual word, I’d be proud for making a semi-permanent contribution to the English language. 

But evidently something horrible happens when your product or trademark becomes an actual word.  You, the creator, can lose some legal protections for your trademark, and others may benefit from your generic word.  I’m no lawyer or business guy, but it sounds like that sucks. 

The reason this matters is that Google and iPad may be on the verge of becoming generic words, and if that’s the case, lots of money can be involved.  None of that money is coming to me, so I don’t care, but I’m interested in the language part of this.  Will Google and iPad become generic words?  Maybe, but I don’t think so. 

Some would say Google is already a generic word. “Google” is often used as a verb, and that’s a reliable sign that a brand name is a generic word.  But too many people hate Google for it to become a legal issue. 

People hate Google because it’s so dominant.  People hate Google for its advertising and privacy policies.  People hate Google for its algorithms.   Teachers hate Google because students end up with a bunch of irrelevant or inappropriate sources for their research papers. 

Fair or not, Google is too polarizing for it to become a generic word in the legal sense.  No new search engine is going to call itself a google and take the term to court.  

If Google becomes a generic word in a legal sense, then it will be because the people that hate Google allow it to happen simply to laugh at Google when it loses some of its trademark protections.  But that would take organization and a lot of money to pay off a judge go through the legal process, and I’m not certain Google haters have that much money or organization. 

iPad won’t become a generic word because technology snobs that have iPads won’t allow it.  I have a tablet that is not an iPad, and when I accidentally referred to it as an iPad, I thought I was going to have to physically defend myself from a violent tech snob who has an actual iPad.  The violent tech snob quickly showed me the differences between an iPad and a non-iPad tablet, and I listened attentively and left the encounter unharmed. 

Unfortunately, I don’t remember what my non-iPad tablets are called, so I had to rename them so I wouldn’t get accosted again.  Non-iPad tablet #1 is called my shmyPad, and non-iPad tablet #2 is called the eyeshPad.  A couple tech snobs with iPads have rolled their eyes at me, but we get along, and the trademark protection is safe. 

***** 

When Band-Aids came out, and somebody using a non-Band-Aid bandage adhesive referred to that non-Band-Aid bandage adhesive as a Band-Aid, I don’t think many Band-Aid owners self-righteously proclaimed, “Excuse me, but that is NOT a Band-Aid.  That is merely a bandage adhesive.” 

I hope it didn’t happen much.  A kid I knew did that in elementary school (no, it wasn’t me), and he got beat up.  That type of behavior just wasn’t acceptable when it came to bandage adhesives. 

At least the next time I get accosted by a bunch of violent tech snobs for accidentally calling my shmyPad an iPad, I can probably ask for a band-aid afterward without any fear of getting attacked again.

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