15 Words You Had No Idea Used To Be Brand Names

Earlier this week, we wrote about 20 brands so powerful you say them everyday

We also pointed out that this is actually a bad thing for brands.

Brands that become common nouns or verbs are victims of “genericide,” a term coined by marketers to represent trademarks and brands that become used repeatedly in lowercase. 

When this happens, a brand name loses its worth because they are so commonly used that people don’t even realise they’re brands when they make purchase decisions.  And once a word becomes genericized, the trademark can not be renewed.

There are a few major brand fails where corporations neglected to renew their trademarks or have lost their marks to the English language. Once upon a time, words like “yo-yo” and “escalator” were strong companies.



Trademark previously owned by: Invented by Louis Reard, and engineer.

What happened: According to WordIQ.com: 'It took fifteen years for the bikini to be accepted in the United States. In 1951 bikinis were banned from the Miss World Contest. In 1957, however, Brigitte Bardot's bikini in And God Created Woman created a market for the swimwear in the US, and in 1960, Brian Hyland's pop song 'Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini' inspired a bikini-buying spree.

'Finally the bikini caught on, and by 1963, the movie Beach Party, starring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, led a wave of films that made the bikini a pop-culture symbol.'

As it gained world-wide acceptance, the term became genericized.


Trademark previously owned by: Bayer

What happened: Bayer owned the trademarks for both Aspirin and Heroin, but had to forgo both after Germany lost World War I. According to Inventors.About.com, Bayer had to give up their marks as a part of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

ZIP Code

Trademark previously owned by: U.S. Postal Service

What happened: The word 'ZIP code' was originally registered as a servicemark, but its registration expired.



Trademark previously owned by: Abraham Gesner owned it and granted the rights to North American Gas Light Company and the Downer Company.

What happened: According to Los Angeles Lawyer Dana B. Taschner, 'Kerosene' is one of 30+ listed former trademarks that are now genericized.


Trademark previously owned by: Duncan Toys Company

What happened: A landmark federal court case in 1965 ruled that yo-yo had become a part of common speech and that Duncan no longer had exclusive rights to it.

Jungle Gym

Trademark previously owned by: Patented by lawyer Sebastian Hinton, sold under the trademarked name Junglegym.

What happened: According to Los Angeles Lawyer Dana B. Taschner, 'Jungle Gym' is one of 30+ listed former trademarks that are now genericized.


Trademark previously owned by: Otis Elevator Company

What happened: From Inventors.about.com: 'The word escalator lost its proprietary status and its capital 'e' in 1950 when the U.S. Patent Office ruled that the word 'escalator' had become just a common descriptive term for moving stairways.'


Trademark previously owned by: Innovia Films Ltd. (note, they still own this mark outside the US)

What happened: From Wikipedia: 'The word 'cellophane' has become genericized in the US, and is often used informally to refer to a wide variety of plastic film products, even those not made of cellulose.

'However, in the UK and in many other countries it is still a registered trademark and the property of Innovia Films Ltd.'



Trademark previously owned by: Griswold-Nissen Trampoline & Tumbling Company

What happened: As trampolines began to gain popularity as a sport (rebound tumbling), the term became genericized.

Saran Wrap

Trademark previously owned by: Dow Chemical Company

What happened: From Wikipedia: 'In some jurisdictions, the name Saran is a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company, while in others, it has lost trademark status and become a generic term for these polymers. In Japan, Saran wrap is a trademark of Asahi Kasei.'


Trademark previously owned by: Bayer

What happened: According to Inventors.About.com: 'After Germany lost World War I, Bayer was forced to give it up as part of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.'

Webster's Dictionary

Trademark previously owned by: Merriam-Webster should have trademarked it

What happened: Merriam-Webster only trademarked 'Merriam-Webster', so other dictionaries are legally published as 'Webster's Dictionary.'

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