Most people know when they say “band aid,” “jello,” “coke,” or “post-it” as a generic term that it’s really a trademarked brand name still protected by law.
There are names with less awareness like Crock Pot, which is used generally to indicate a slow cooker appliance, but is currently a trademark of Rival. Others like this include Bubble Wrap (trademarked by Sealed Air), Onesies (trademarked by Gerber), Styrofoam (trademarked by Dow), and Hula Hoop, Frisbee, and Hacky Sack (all from Whammo).
It continues on today when companies like Google and Lego are trying to prevent what’s happened to so many enormously popular brand names before them: becoming genericized.
Click ahead to see 10 generic terms that you might not have realized were once trademarked.
By Colleen Kane
Posted 17 Feb 2011
Invented: late 1800s
The name for the most basic reliever of aches and pains either derived from the botanical name for meadowsweet, Spiraea ulmaria or acetyl and spirsäure, German for salicylic acid. Bayer’s patent expired in 1917, after which many competitors muscled in. It was genericized as part of post-WWI war reparations in the U.S., Australia, France, Ireland, and elsewhere, but remains a trademark in over 80 countries.
Manufacturer: Samuel Parkinson
It’s hard to imagine an era without this sinful confection made of brown sugar and butter, but it was first whipped up in Doncaster, England, where it remained a tourist attraction until 1977. In 2003 the recipe was (conveniently?) discovered in a tin in a Doncaster cellar, and is an attraction once more.
Invented: 1908 by Jacques Brandeberger
Brandeberger was reportedly inspired to invent a film to make cloth waterproof after seeing someone spit wine onto a tablecloth. The name probably came from cellulose + Greek phainein “to appear”, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. It remains a registrered trademark in the UK and some other countries.
Invented: 1897, redesigned by Charles Seeberger
Manufacturer: Otis Elevator Company
The name is derived from scala, Latin for stairs, and the already existing invention elevator. What began as a novelty ride at Coney Island became ubiquitous and after the patent was lost, “elevator” has officially been a generic term since 1950.
Invented: 1854 by Abraham Gesner
Manufacturer: North American Gas Light Company and the Downer Company
The word comes from the Greek term for wax, keros, and is probably a contraction of keroselaion, or “wax oil.” Now it’s used for any produce with the same mix of petroleum chemicals and used as fuel, heating oil, or in insecticides.
Invented: 1933 by J.P. Thompson
Phillips’ cross-head screws and the complementary screwdrivers came about because of the mass-production needs of the post-industrial revolution era. The term went generic when the last patent on the Phillips systems expired in 1966.
Manufacturer: Bell Telephone, AT&T
Touch-tone input first provided freedom from rotary telephone dials in the early 1960s, when it was a trademarked technology, but didn’t come into widespread use until the 1980s.
Invented: late 1930s
Manufacturer: Griswold-Nissen Trampoline & Tumbling Company
The once-trademarked name is derived from the Spanish term for diving board, trampolin.
Invented: 1951, Charles Ginsburg and his research team
Today videotape’s inventor Charles Ginsburg is known as the father of the VCR, but presumably only to those who know that videotape was once a trademark of Ampex.
Invented: In 1913, Gideon Sundback improved a few previous versions
Manufacturer: Universal Fastener Company
The registered trademark zipper in 1925 originally referred to the B.F. Goodrich overshoes that it appeared on, and while Goodrich used “zipper boots” for a while after, the term zipper genericized.