Companies seek due credit for trademarks


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In light of Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, it seems appropriate to discuss product trademarks.

Reporters are typically introduced in Journalism 101 to the notion that Kleenex is a brand name and "tissue" is the preferred generic term.

Distinguishing between registered and trademarked names and their generic equivalents is not always that simple, however, and knowing the difference is important to the owners of those names.

Just how important is revealed through the advertisements published by Gore-Tex, Kleenex, Tabasco and Xerox in the spring and fall editions of American Journalism Review. Reaching out directly to the journalism industry through this magazine, here's now these companies made their point:

Gore-Tex: A registered trademark of W.L. Gore and Associates Inc., the company's ad starts with this message (the italics included): Whether you're running, skiing, hiking or writing, if you use Gore-Tex fabric correctly, we'll all feel comfortable." It explains that "Gore-Tex fabric is the original waterproof-breathable fabric that revolutionized the outdoor sportswear market," and it asks that its trademark be used correctly, always as an adjective to modify its fabric, gloves and outerwear.

Kleenex: This company's full-page ad shows the well-known "R" with a circle around it, partially erased, with the words, "Do not erase," prominent. It explains that, "You may not realize it, but by using the name Kleenex as a generic term for tissue, you risk erasing our coveted brand name." Kleenex also asks that the circled "R" be used after the word Kleenex, although I'm not aware of any newspaper that honors such requests.

Tabasco: This ad, showing two bottles of the well-known pepper sauce, simply points out that Tabasco is a registered trademark of McIlhenny Company, Avery Island, La.

Xerox: The corporate giant's ad shows a coat zipper being pulled down and suggests, "If a trademark is misused it could come undone." It notes that zipper used to be a trademark, but it was lost "because people misused the name." The ad asks that journalists help ensure that doesn't happen to Xerox. Copy that.

A training program used at The News-Item includes a section on trademarks that, in addition to Kleenex and Xerox, also points out caution with these words: Styrofoam, Scotch Tape, Band-Aid, Dumpster, Frisbee, Kitty Litter, Windbreaker, Jacuzzi, Seeing-Eye Dog, Fiberglas and Velcro.

Another noteworthy if outdated trademark noted in the Associated Press stylebook is "Astro-Turf."

Journalists are sensitive to these companies' brand names and the pride - and money - they represent. However, it can be a challenge at times making sure the generic equivalents are used. For example, do most people realize "Kitty Litter" is a brand name? Probably not. And we're sure they would require a second take on AP's suggested generic alternative - "cat box filler" - if they came across that strange combination of words in a story.

(Heintzelman, editor of The News-Item, writes "The Week In News" for each Saturday edition.)

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