Velcro's Hilarious Trademark Lesson Video Actually A Good Lesson In Just How Stupid Trademark Law Has Become

from the genericide-insanity dept

So, you’ve probably heard stories in the past about the fear some trademark lawyers have about “genericide” — where their product’s name becomes so attached to the product that it’s considered generic and the trademark no longer applies? Think kleenex and xerox for example. We’ve found, over the years, that people get a bit too worked up about this, leading trademark lawyers to make some really dumb demands along the way to try to “prevent” what is generally impossible to actually prevent. We also often see people claim (falsely) that this means companies are required to stop any and all uses of their mark, even when not infringing (or, even worse, seeing people falsely claiming that the same thing applies to copyright). Either way, the company Velcro has taken… well… quite a unique approach to the fact that everyone calls their most famous product “velcro” — even when made by competitors. They made an absolutely hilarious “We are the World”-style video begging you not to call it Velcro and telling you, in no uncertain terms, that they it’s “fucking hook & loop.” Really.

When I first saw it, I thought it was a John Oliver or SNL-style parody video, but nope. It’s real. It’s on Velcro’s official YouTube feed, and they even have a behind the scenes “making of” video to explain how the video was made and how it came about (including the fact that two actual Velcro lawyers are in the video).

Of course, they insist they’re doing this to get people talking about the importance of calling it “hook and loop” though I think at best, it will just get people talking about how incredibly dumb trademark law has become, where this kind of thing is seen as necessary. The only people who will now start calling it “hook and loop” are likely to be people doing it ironically. In which case, they may go with the longer “this is fucking hook and loop,” as the song suggests. But, as the song itself suggests, it’s totally ridiculous that the company has to do this to try to get you to stop saying the brand name that the company spent “60 plus years” building. The song also jokingly references other genericized brands, such as Clorox, Band-Aid and Rollerblades.

Thankfully, they don’t seem to get the finer points of the law really wrong in the song — noting that the patent on velcro expired 40 years ago, and if everyone calls everything similar velcro, the company might “lose our circle R.” Of course, they leave out the fact that if they lose the trademark… it’s actually probably not that big a deal. People will still call all similar products velcro, but Velcro-brand velcro will almost certainly still be able to charge a premium, since people will recognize the brand name.

And that’s really what highlights how dumb all of this is. Even if you lose the trademark to genericide, that doesn’t mean the company packs up and moves on. It just shows how much the brand itself has resonated, and companies have lots of ways to continue to capitalize on that brand, even without the registered trademark. So, while I can always get behind hilarious videos concerning oddities in trademark, copyright or patent law, this video seems like a much better lesson in the stupidity of trademark law (and how much lawyers overreact to the fear of genericide) than any legitimate argument against calling someone else’s velcro-like fastner “velcro.”

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Companies: velcro

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Comments on “Velcro's Hilarious Trademark Lesson Video Actually A Good Lesson In Just How Stupid Trademark Law Has Become”

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49 Comments
James Burkhardt (profile) says:

The Patent Irony

The patent likely worked against them. By the time competitor’s entered the market, the term for the product was “Velcro”. Because its easier said then “hook and loop”. And without any innovation to stand out, I can’t really tell the difference. In contrast, Kleenex is clearly dominant in its industry still, and I pay for the name brand because it always is superior in some way to the cheap generic. (Pocket packs for instance never dispense right with a cheap brand).

Also, interestingly, I don’t find Kleenex brand Kleenex in the store, nor do I find <local Brand> brand kleenex. I find kleenex brand facial tissue and <local brand> brand facial tissue. So Kleenex might no longer be generic?

TechDescartes (profile) says:

"Hook and Loop" Won't Stick

If they want to get all technical about it, according to their registration certificate, this ain’t no mere "hook and loop." It’s:

molded and extruded plastic material having a surface of hooks or loops, for use in manufacture as components of hook and loop fastening systems; hook and loop fastening systems for use in manufacture

Now put that in a lyric.

Anonymous Coward says:

Brand premium

.. it’s actually probably not that big a deal. People will still call all similar products velcro, but Velcro-brand velcro will almost certainly still be able to charge a premium, since people will recognize the brand name.

Uh, wouldn’t anyone be able to write "velcro" on the package to get that premium? I’m certainly not going to care whether I’m buying "Velcro® hook-and-loop fastener" or "Acme velcro". (Actually, the latter is probably better, because you’d know it’s actually velcro and not just some unrelated product released under the brand "Velcro"—like how soda-lime glass is being released as "Pyrex".)

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: On Pyrex

Pyrex glassware is still heat resistant (tempered soda-lime) though granted less heat-resistant than borosilicate glass. Still you can get borosilicate glassware from laboratory suppliers, often much cheaper than you can kitchenware.

Interestingly, all the Pyrex enthusiasts I know were keen about the product change-over, and now seek out vintage Pyrex over new stuff.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: On Pyrex

Pyrex glassware is still heat resistant (tempered soda-lime) though granted less heat-resistant than borosilicate glass.

"Heat-resistant" isn’t a problem at all; where the new glass fails is rapid cooling. Even putting it on a wet countertop can make it explode.

Still you can get borosilicate glassware from laboratory suppliers, often much cheaper than you can kitchenware.

Can anyone order that stuff? I’ve heard some states have laws restricting laboratory glassware (a consequence of the drug war). And can you recommend suppliers and products for the kitchen? I don’t need beakers and test tubes. Maybe something with a lid that fits in a microwave.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Borosilicate glassware

Lab glass is not restricted here in California, but then again we’re the drug runners who supply Benadryl for Oreganians in high-pollen areas (Benedryl is over-the-counter here and a known ingredient, hence restricted, for crystal meth up there.) Anything that’s not a gun is legal here in CA.

You can also look at Anchor Kitchenware (also Anchor Hocking or Anchor & Mill) who still use borosilicate glass as far as I know. Apparently, also rumor has it European Pyrex (manufactured in France) is still boro. Only American Pyrex is soda lime.

bhull242 (profile) says:

Seems a bit late…

I don’t think I’ve ever heard about them ever being called “hook and loop”, just “velcro”. It’s probably way too late to push back now. Besides, “hook and loop” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Laziness of average person + decades-long habit = uphill battle for Velcro’s trademark lawyers. I predict this will be less successful than the attempt for French regulators to impose a new French term for “email”.

Same goes for “band-aid”—which isn’t actually synonymous with “bandage”, as that applies to products beyond the medical tape + pad formula—which, again, seems to have been doomed to genericide long ago.

That said, I’m unaware of any brand names for bleach that have ever been “used incorrectly”, so I honestly don’t know what that’s about.

Ryunosuke (profile) says:

Re: Seems a bit late…

Band-aid usually refers to the small 2 inch long, 1 inch wide self adhesive bandage. However, there are also other types of bandages as well. For example, large gauze or cloth bandages that need medical tape or a roll (or tube) bandage (3M Coban LF) or compression bandage (ACE bandage)

Roller blades/Inline Skates are interchangeable here.

thing with Clorox/Bleach, is that Clorox makes other cleaners too, and there are a shit ton of other bleaches than Clorox.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re:

They were leaning too hard on the patent. 25 year guaranteed monopoly + easy to say brand name = Household name. But lean on that government grant for 25 years, then what. No one actually thinks Velcro brand is better than any other brand because they haven’t built a reputation for being good at what they do or showing any reason that people would chose them over anyone else. Their only reputation is they used to be the only ones allowed to sell that product. The grant expires now all Velcro has going for them is name people recognize but don’t care about.
Maybe it’s time to actually start competing?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Can yes, should or would, well history says not likely. If you stop and think about it, the promotional gains could easily be eaten up by the negative PR if it appeared to the public an impostor was trying to horn in on somebody else. Particularly to those raised in an ownership culture. Then there is also the potential court cost to prove that it has become a generic term. That same court case would amplify any negative PR. Additionally the potential expenses if the courts were to determine that it is still a valid trademark and not yet a generic term. One thing I have learned from reading TechDirt is that courts can be fickle. Even if the court ruled favorably, the court of public opinion may be far less hospitable. So far when trademarks have become generic terms, competitors have not shown themselves to be such high-stakes gamblers.

tubes420 says:

I've been calling it "Hook & Loop" for Years

Being in the engineering field, when we make drawings, on the BOM we always had to call it “hook & loop” because of various businesses being afraid to use the copyrighted name on their drawings. That is the only time I’ve ever heard of Velcro being refereed to as “hook & loop” until I read this article.

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