Brand names are essential assets to any business. They identify, set apart and distinguish one product from another. And many companies strive to make their brand or product a household name.

However, there is a point where popularity actually works against a company. This can happen in cases of genericide.

What is genericide?

Genericide occurs when a trademark becomes so diluted that the brand name becomes a generic term for all similar products. This occurred with aspirin, escalators and trampolines.

At one point, these and other product names were private property, but now they are common words that no longer fall under the protection of a trademark.

So what can companies do to avoid this?

One way to protect a trademark is to educate consumers. Multiple companies have done this in an effort to keep their trademark and distinguish their products from generic terms; most recently is Velcro Companies.

The company has launched two viral video campaigns urging consumers not to say “Velcro” unless they are referring to specific VELCRO® Brand products. Instead, they instruct people to use alternatives, like “hook & loop fasteners”.

Companies can also be diligent in protecting use of trademarked names by enforcing ownership before misuse spreads widely. For instance, companies might send a cease and desist letter to a company that is selling similar products online under a protected name without permission.

When people refer to other products by a brand name, the integrity and identity of the brand name can be compromised and the company can lose the protection of a trademark. This can be devastating for a company’s portfolio and future.

To avoid any situation in which another company is unlawfully using protected names or materials, business owners can discuss the legal remedies and options with an attorney.