It was another dry day at the Chemistry class. When I was busy waging a losing battle against the sleep gods, the term ‘Dry Ice’ was splashed upon me like a bucket of freezing cold water. I can still recollect the newness of the coinage jolting me out of my reverie.
Before I could muster the courage to ask how ice can be dry, my teacher informed me that Solid Carbon Dioxide when heated turns into gas instead of melting. That’s why it’s never wet. Recently, I came to know that Dry Ice was trademarked in America in 1925. So it was a brand name all along and not a term that sprouted from a text book!
Actually, if one cares to dig deeper one can discover many such trademarks that are part of our everyday lexicon. Heroin, the illegal substance that figures in many B-grade crime movies, is technically Morphine Diacetate but it was given the H-moniker and was trademarked by Bayer & Co in 1898.
Kerosene, the fuel that gives the ration shop its distinct odour, was christened by Abraham Gesner from keroselaion (Greek for ‘wax-oil) and was registered in 1854 as a wordmark.
Even ‘Escalator’ was trademarked in 1900 by Charles Seeberger who later worked for the Otis Elevator Company. But in precisely 50 years, it lost its legal protection when a court declared that an escalator is a generic moving stairway and cannot be called a brand name as it had become ubiquitous.
Many category-creator brands face such a risk. Marketers call this phenomenon ‘genericide’. That’s the reason why Xerox is very particular that you call the act of document duplication as ‘photocopying’ and not ‘Xeroxing’. And Adobe is insisting that you should never use ‘photoshop’, ‘photoshopping’ or ‘photoshopper’ in any written form of communication – including this article!
But in many cases, the damage has already been done. No one knows that Bubble Wrap is a trade name from Sealed Air Corporation. No one cares whether Wham-O Incorporated has the rights to ‘Frisbee’ because to the Average Joe, a flying disc is a Frisbee. By the way, Wham-O also owns Hula-Hoop!
Likewise Laundromat (a property of Westinghouse Electric), Videotape (originally belonged to Ampex), Trampoline (Griswold-Nissen’s), Dictaphone (Nuance Communication’s), and Fiberglass (Owens Corning’s) have all suffered the same fate. But as our legend Ravi Shastri would famously say, “In the end, English was the winner.”