Biro, Thermos and 20 Other Trademarked Names Kenyans Think are General Terms

March 8, 2016

Since when I can remember, certain brand names have represented all other similar commodities. This kind of name recognition and eventual generalization is what most manufacturers would want with their product, but it requires many years, lots of luck and early entry advantage.
Everywhere you go around this country, OMO is the general term for all detergents, despite it being a trademarked name owned by Unilever.
To a lesser extent, Jik also means a household bleach while Blueband stands for every margarine.
You may be surprised that there are many more generalized trademark names than you imagined. Some of these have been accepted world wide.

1. Thermos

I’m sure this is surprising to many people. The correct name is Vacuum flask, but Thermos has come to be accepted as a general term.
This is despite the fact that ThermosⓇ is a trademarked name. Thermos L.L.C is a UK company that has been making Vacuum flasks since 1904 and probably that explains why every Vacuum flask today is referred to as Thermos, even when it’s not Thermos.

2. Biro

The proper name is Ballpoint pen, but most of the world outside the US refer to it as a Biro. It’s inventor, Laszlo Biro patented the invention in 1938. Marcel Bich bought the patent in 1950, making it the main product of his Bic company.
Today, the company’s intellectual department keeps a close eye on the media to see how their trademark name is used. They are known to write to publications who fail to capitalize the ‘B’.

3. Sellotape

If Biro did not surprise you, this one sure will.
Ask any Kenyan on the street and they don’t know any other name for it. The correct terms are adhesive tape or sticky tape or just tape.
Sellotape is the leading brand of adhesive tape in the UK. It has become so generalized that it’s now in the Oxford Dictionary.

4. Superglue

Closely related to Sellotape is Super Glue®. 
It is owned by US company Super Glue Corporation, but today it’s not uncommon to find other Cyanoacrylate adhesive (Yes, that’s the generic name) branded ‘Super Glue’.
Looking at the proper term, it’s easy to see why ‘Super Glue’ was an easier sell.

5. Escalator

This one is special. There is really no other generic name. That’s because the inventors, Otis Elevator Company, coined the name and trademarked it immediately.
However, it lost its proprietary status and its capital “e” in 1950 when the U.S. Patent Office ruled that the word “escalator” had become just a common descriptive term for moving stairways.”

6. Alcoblow

Well, you guessed it. The most despised tool on our roads is also a trademark name.
AlcoBlow® is a product of US company CMI, Inc.
Breath Alcohol testers is a more appropriate generic term, but the rest of the world has generalized ‘Breathalyzer’, which is funny enough also another trademarked brand name.

7. Kerosene

Abraham Gesner previously owned it and granted the rights to North American Gas Light Company and the Downer Company.
The name is now however listed as a former trademark that has been generalized.

8. Bikini

French designer Louis Réard invented and named the two-piece swimsuit ‘Bikini’ in 1946. It faced a lot of opposition initially, but today here we are.

9. Band-Aid

Owned by Johnson and Johnson, BAND-AID® is accepted as a general term for all adhesive bandages (That’s the generic term).

10. Jacuzzi

The generic name is Hot tub or whirlpool.
Jacuzzi® is in fact an Italian company that makes, well, Jacuzzis.


11. Aspirin

Generic name: Acetylsalicylic acid
Previously owned by: Bayer AG

12. Heroin

heroinPreviously owned by Bayer AG
Together with Aspirin, trademark stripped from the company after Germany lost World War I.

13. Fiberglass

gen1Generic name: Glass wool
Owned by: Owens Corning

14. Jet Ski

gen2Generic name: Personal watercraft
Owned by: Kawasaki

15. Super Heroes

gen3Generic name: Superhero
Owned by: DC Comics and Marvel Comics

16. Vaseline

gen4Generic name: Petroleum Jelly
Owned by: Unilever

17. Google

gen5Generic name: Search Engine
Owned by: Alphabet Inc (formerly Google Inc)

18. Hula Hoop

gen6Generic name: Toy Hoop
Owned by: Wham-O

19. Photoshop

Generic name: Photo manipulation
Owned by: Adobe Systems
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20. Ping Pong

gen8Generic name: Table Tennis
Owned by: Parker Brothers

21. Plasticine

gen9Generic name: Modelling Clay
Owned by: Flair Leisure Products plc

22. App

gen10Previously owned by: Apple Inc

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