Tulsa Law Review


Neal A. Hoopes


“Companies spend billions to promote their brand. But with increased trademark recognition comes the possibility of losing exclusive rights to use that trademark through a process called genericide. In determining whether a trademark has become generic, courts have often turned to linguistic evidence such as dictionaries and media usage. These courts suggest that linguistic tools reflect a trademark’s meaning. These tools are not the objective indicators that courts have assumed, however. This Paper discusses why using dictionaries and media usage to prove genericide is a mistake and then turns to evaluating another interpretive tool, corpus linguistics. Corpus linguistics, unlike other linguistic tools, may prove beneficial for companies seeking to protect their trademarks. Ultimately, however, linguistic tools—including dictionaries, media usage, and corpus linguistics—cannot prove genericism because linguistic data may, at best, prove a term’s majority usage. This is because the Lanham Act requires a showing of primary significance. This Paper contends that courts should maintain majority usage and primary significance as distinct concepts and, in this way, should reclaim the primary significance test.”

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