How not to use brand names and the awkward results
I recently came across an article describing policies and brand name usage for Adobe. The company has in its website a long and boring page about permissions and trademark issues. It is funny how they’re trying to force people to use the company’s brand name and trademarks as they should be used: company’s name and software packages’ names! Instead, and we have all contributed to this at some point, they’re used as verbs, nouns, and whatever else! I guess that’s the price Adobe must pay for the immense success of Photoshop.
I googled eBay to look for photoshopped
contemporary art images
” becomes:
I used the Google ® search engine
software to look at the eBay ®
online auction site for contemporary
art images digitally processed with
Adobe ® Photoshop ® Software

I explain: we usually refer to a processed image saying “it has been photoshoped“. We also sometimes say something like “I like photoshopping“. Both are clearly wrong linguistically, but this is not the first time something like that happens and definitely not the last one! Same thing happened for Google, eBay, Digg, and more. The brand names have turned into verbs or nouns in slang first, universally adopted later! Even dictionaries are updated to accommodate the new usage of such brand names! And it is not just brand names. For example, we say “I faxed the document” and it seems quite normal as the word has been adopted as a verb over the years and due to its heavy usage.

After all, it’s all about convenience and ease of communication (or perhaps not?). Discussion and communication become easier, especially between people of similar fields. Let’s think about it: under Adobe’s recommendations, simple sentences such as “I googled eBay to look for photoshopped contemporary art images” would have to become: “I used the Google ® search engine software to look at the eBay ® online auction site for contemporary art images digitally processed with Adobe ® Photoshop ® Software“, whereas “I faxed a printout of the Digged article to my brother” should be “I used my fax machine to transmit a printout of an article that had been voted by many members of the Digg ® digital community“! Now, that’s more than double energy spent in extra words! Plus, I have a feeling that they will eventually also make us learn by heart and provide references to the patent and trademark numbers (think: “I used the Adobe ® Photoshop ® Software, Copyright © 1987-2003 Adobe Systems Incorporated, U.S. Patents 4,837,613; 5,050,103; 5,185,818;… to process my photo“).

Jokes aside, it is a serious issue for big trend-setting, groundbreaking, or well established companies and their software, and despite the recognition that such a wide adoption of the company name as a verb brings (i.e. it means the dominance of the company in its particular field), companies are afraid that the trademark will lose its prestige if it acquires a more generic applicability.

For instance, the term Google has ended up meaning searching the web in general, sometimes not even using Google! Plus, Google is not just about searching any more! There is a horde of web services available from Google now, and the company would not like its brand name to be exclusively associated with searching facilities.

In any case, I believe that some have taken this too far, suggesting that lawsuits might be on the way! That would be interesting to see how they will go about enforcing people to make proper use of the brand names “or else…“!

Following the exploration of similar articles, I tried to remember similar verbs or nouns originating from brand names or similar, but I wasn’t able to “digg” up many ;-) Oops, lawsuit coming… Anyway, I even tried Googling to discov… Damn! Must. Be. More. Careful! Moving on, any help to construct a million dollar lawsuit list of such brand names would be greatly appreciated!
5 Responses to this post
1. Alessandro Basso
Uh, uh, I got one! IPod®! Apparently there has been a huge thing going on with Apple® not wanting people to use the word Pod for anything… crazy stuff!
From Webdictionary:

Definitions of pod

1. [n] - the vessel that contains the seeds of a plant (not the seeds themselves)

2. [n] - a several-seeded dehiscent fruit as e.g. of a leguminous plant

3. [n] - a group of aquatic mammals

4. [n] - a detachable container of fuel on an airplane

5. [v] - take something out of its shell or pod, such as peas or beans

6. [v] - produce pods, of plants

What the hell is wrong with Apple??
Kleenix had some issue along these lines you might look at for precedence.

Other examples:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genericized_trademark
Daniel, thanks for the link. Indeed there are many cases in the Wikipedia entry, Kleenex included:
The popularity of the product [Kleenex] has led to the use of its name to refer to any facial tissue, regardless of the brand. Many dictionaries, including Merriam-Webster, and Oxford, now include definitions in their publications defining it as such.
A list? Brace yourself.

Xerox, Scotch tape, Kleenex, Walkman, Band-Aid, Aspirin, iPod, Hoover, Jell-O, Q-Tip, Ziploc, Ketchup, TiVo, Coke, Photoshop, Rollerblade, Ugg, Thermos, FedEx, Elevator, Escalator, Chapstick, Cellophane, Dry Ice, Brassiere, Frisbee, Lycra, Kool-Aid, Spandex.
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