Shattering pyrex To Show A Massive Weakness In Trademark Law

from the turn-up-the-heat-and-it-shatters dept

Trademark at its best is a means to protect the public and consumers. A brand may be associated with a particular product and a particular level of quality. Consumers seeking exactly that product and quality will seek that brand; Trademark laws ensure they're getting the real thing.

Take Pyrex: it's heat-resistant glass, what we used in chemistry lab in high school, what you buy if you're cooking and baking with a lot of heat changes. Except it's not, as this highly amusing video demonstrates (start watching at about 28:00):
What I and everyone I know always called Pyrex is in fact borosilicate glass. I didn't even know the term "borosilicate" until I watched this. Pyrex has never been commonly referred to as "Pyrex brand borosilicate glass." It was just Pyrex, the stuff you used in a lab, that you could heat up and cool down without breaking.

Trademark treats brands as "property," controlled exclusively by "owners," who can buy and sell them:
In 1998, Corning divested its consumer products division which subsequently adopted the name World Kitchen, acquiring the rights to the pyrex® trademark. The company introduced clear tempered soda-lime glass kitchenware and bakeware under the pyrex® name. link
According to Wikipedia, Corning's responsibility extends to this formality:
When trademarked as PYREX® (all UPPER CASE LETTERS plus, in the USA, a trademark notice comprising a capital “R” in a circle) the trademark includes clear, low-thermal-expansion borosilicate glass used for laboratory glassware and kitchenware, plus other kitchenware including opaque tempered high-thermal-expansion soda-lime glass, pyroceram, stoneware, and metal items See. e.g., European trademark usage differs from American and the encircled "R" is not present on European PYREX items.

When trademarked as pyrex® (all lower case letters plus a trademark notice comprising a capital “R” in a circle) the trademark includes clear tempered high-thermal-expansion soda-lime glass kitchenware, plus other non-glass kitchenware, made by World Kitchen. See, e.g.,
I don't think this passes the "moron in a hurry" test, but it's not put to the test because Corning isn't having a dispute with a competitor. Rather, they are misleading consumers, and Trademark law as it currently exists offers no remedy.

Consumer Reports did a video about glass bakeware exploding, but didn't address the Trademark issue at all:
Imagine if a counterfeiter were passing off soda lime glass as Pyrex. The outcry would be huge. Government agencies would be busting down doors and arresting people and using it as a reason to pass ACTA. But if Corning and their licensees do it under the Pyrex brand, all we can do is shrug.

In his book Against Intellectual Property, Stephan Kinsella argues that Trademark should protect the rights of consumers. He suggests Trademark suits should be brought by consumers against monopolists, not by monopolists against competitors. I have no answers, and like I said I'm not a Trademark abolitionist. I certainly don't want to increase the reach of Trademark law; I generally don't think more lawsuits are an answer to anything. But it's a good story to show that Trademark isn't as functional as we'd like it to be.

Filed Under: consumer protection, pyrex, trademark
Companies: pyrex

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  1. identicon
    Matt, 7 Feb 2012 @ 8:07am

    Mike I think you're off base here

    Mike, "PYREX" is a very old and generic trademark term for various types of glass products made by Corning.

    "Pyrex" lab instruments are indeed borosilicate glass. They are quite fragile but have a superior resistance to thermal shock compared to soda lime glass.

    "Pyrex" baking dishes have been made by World Kitchen (a US company and also manufactured in the US, despite what you'll see in a common chain email) for 15 years, and World Kitchen has claimed that they did NOT change the recipe and that at least some % of the older Corning-made Pyrex baking dishes are also tempered soda lime glass.

    Tempered soda lime glass is significantly more resistant to physical shocks-- bumps, drops, etc-- than borosilicate. It is true that its resistance to thermal shock is inferior, but it's also been claimed that the gains in physical shock resistance are far greater than the losses in thermal shock resistance.

    I have been using tempered soda lime baking dishes for many years, as have hundreds of millions of people, without incident or problem.

    The REAL problem is a lack of education, and perhaps a lack of clear and visible product labeling, regarding proper use and hazards associated with glass bakeware. People simply don't realize that you cannot do things like grab a super heated baking dish with wet oven mitts, or set a super heated dish directly on a really cold or wet granite countertop, or take a dish from the freezer directly into the oven or vice versa.

    I often agree with you but in this case I do not think there is a problem with trademark here. Wouldn't this be like McDonald's getting blamed because they sold both hamburgers and salads under the "McDonalds" trademark which confused people? Hardly. The problem is lack of consumer knowledge/education and not trademark.

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