Trademarks: Velcro

As subs, Apus and I have to be careful about the use of genericised trademarks in our publication. For example, our writers shouldn't refer to 'hoovers' when they mean vacuum cleaners in general - the manufacturer Hoover is liable to get cross at this misuse of its trademark and write us a stern letter.

Leaving these genericised trademarks in the magazine is unlikely to get us sued, but it could damage our relations with the companies in question. And we get enough stern letters as it is.

One genericised trademark that had me stumped recently was Velcro – if we can't refer to 'velcro' as a generic, what should we call this type of product? The OED, for once, wasn't much use. The answer came via Wikipedia - Velcro, apparently, is a specific brand of "fabric hook-and-loop fastener".

Wikipedia also has a comprehensive list of genericised trademarks – many of which are country or region-specific.


Paul said...

OK, so riddle me this - on a whim, I named my blog Velcro City Tourist Board (basically because I liked the sound of it, though it has a certain personal resonance also). It has nothing whatsoever to do with fastenings of any type. Could I still be threatened for using the name illegally? I'm not really that bothered either way (hell, I could use the publicity), but it's something I've often wondered since.

JD (The Engine Room) said...

It does sound like trademark infringement, although I don't know whether Velcro is a registered trademark in your country of residence.

However if your blog is personal and non-profit-making, and is not damaging the reputation of Velcro, then I doubt the manufacturer will be moved to act. I think the most you might possibly get is a letter asking you to 'cease and desist'.

I am not a lawyer, and would not trust my own legal advice - I recommend you don't either!

Apus said...

Like many other subs I once received a letter from the nice people at Portakabin, reminding me that the generic term I had failed to use is 'portable building'.

Fair enough, but I recently visited the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum ( where they have some 45 historic buildings that have been moved to the museum's site.

Some of these buildings date back hundreds of years and they certainly weren't built to be portable... I guess it's it's all down to how you define the word 'portable'.

garicgymro said...

I didn't think hoover was a trademark in the UK any more.

JD (The Engine Room) said...

The OED has it down as a trademark, and certainly products are still being sold in the UK under the Hoover brand name.

However 'hoover' has become such a generic term that if Hoover were to contest its use as a generic then a court would remove its trademark. At least that's the situation according to this BBC news story:

In terms of a magazine production desk, it's good practice to avoid the generic use of trademarks whether or not the company has the power to take action against such use.