Can 'Xeroxing' be trademarked if there's no other word for it?

Ohio civil servant's testimony shows the risks of a brand being too popular

Occasionally a brand name becomes, through common usage, equivalent to a generic term for the item or process. I’m sure we can all think of many examples.

Companies have in the past struggled to keep this from happening in order to prevent their trademark from becoming a generic term. If they don’t fight tooth-and-nail over this, it’s possible their brands could go the way of the zipper, the aspirin or the netbook, once proper names that became generic through common use.

It’s so sad, you might need a [facial tissue].

Xerox Corp. has always been at the forefront of this battle. Since its xerographic photocopying process became the norm, people started to refer to “Xeroxing” when they meant “photocopying.” Although this could be seen as some sort of free publicity, if nothing is done to stop it, the company’s trademark could have ended up in the [front-loader waste container].

So, Xerox has launched many a campaign to try to steer people away from using its brand in this way, as a means of sort of slapping a [adhesive bandage] on the problem. Unfortunately, people will call things what they want, and who knows how much good these campaigns will do.

Well, Xerox Corp. may have taken a serious hit on the trademark front in, of all places, a public records case being heard in the Ohio Supreme Court, according to a report at Cleveland.com

In the case, a Cuyahoga County civil servant went on record saying that he had only heard the term “Xerox” to refer to the act of photocopying, and photocopiers.

Over the course of 10 pages of a court transcript that reads like an Abbott and Costello routine, he went so far as to say that he never heard the term “photocopying” used in the office, only “Xeroxing,” even after later admitting that the office machine where the “Xeroxing” was conducted was not, in fact, made by Xerox.

He saw nothing wrong with this quirk of language.

Now, nothing was ruled in this case about usage of brand names, but the worker’s testimony in the extremely humorous transcript shows the danger to trademarked terms that get a little too popular. I guess that’s one more thing to throw into the generalizing [electrical slow cooker].

Some may say that this “genericide” is a natural price for a product or brand dominating a market. Personally, I don’t know how I’d feel having my name used generically. I get that enough in the Lab. “Oh look, he sure Gregged that product but good!” I will leave the actual definition up to your own imaginations.

About the Author

Greg Crowe is a former GCN staff writer who covered mobile technology.


  • Russia prying into state, local networks

    A Russian state-sponsored advanced persistent threat actor targeting state, local, territorial and tribal government networks exfiltrated data from at least two victims.

  • Marines on patrol (US Marines)

    Using AVs to tell friend from foe

    The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is looking for ways autonomous vehicles can make it easier for commanders to detect and track threats among civilians in complex urban environments without escalating tensions.

Stay Connected