Trademarks are meant to protect a business’ particular brand, its unique identity and creativity that it has carved out for itself in the landscape. The best trademarks are the ones immediately evocative of a particular product or pitch, rendered in the space in your brain previously reserved for childhood memories or something else not pervaded by capitalism. Whatever you may think of branding, there is something to be said for it when done correctly and cleverly, and even the most sceptical wouldn’t begrudge it the legal protection it has earned.
In some cases, a phrase or mark is so good it becomes a part of the large lexicon, and in that way loses its ability to be owned by any brand whatsoever. The latest example comes from a story in The Verge, wherein Peleton is seeking the cancellation of the “spin” and “spinning” trademarks that have been owned by Mad Dogg Athletics since the 90’s. (As an aside, there is perhaps no more 90’s name for a fitness company than Mad Dogg.) Peloton’s push to have the marks cancelled is tied to a lawsuit filed by Mad Dogg over Peleton’s use of the terms; asid push is understandably seen by Mad Dogg as a retaliatory effort on the part of Peleton.
While no one would applaud any malicious legal maneuvering, Peleton has an interesting case on the merits. The article points to Band-Aid and Xerox as examples of brands wherein the brand name version of a product became what we call the product itself in most instances. Those companies and others become victims of their own success, so popular and so ubiquitous that their marks now belong to the English language in practical terms, although both brands still retain the legal rights.
Mad Dogg’s case is something else, however; while “spin” and “spinning” are arguable generic terms, it has nothing to do with the company and its efforts or success; with due respect, I had never heard of them before coming upon this story, and likely most others hadn’t either. And yet the terms broadly apply to stationary bikes and the group exercises that make use of them, and no amount of legal wrangling can put that particular genie back in the bottle. Certainly I’m loath to dismiss the rights and ownership of any business in the face of what could be interpreted as strongarm tactics on the part of a corporation, but regardless of how this particular case shakes out, I think Mad Dogg may have to accept that the larger battle is lost.