Marks For The Marketplace

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The ghostly presence of shredded wheat, lanolin, celluloid, dry ice, and milk of magnesia haunts marketing men and makes compulsive dictionary-watchers of corporate executives who may read and ponder when they find Frigidaire and Jell-0 in the American Heritage Dictionary carefully capitalized and defined as trademarks, while cellophane, which took twelve years of time plus untold sums of money and great toil to win its place in the sun after being introduced from France, languishes in lower-case ignominy as just a type of wrapping material made from wood pulp. Common property. A household word. Both the Frenchman who invented cellophane, and du Pont de Nemours and Company, which bought the U.S. rights to manufacture it, constantly and inexplicably used the coined name in a descriptive sense; the company, for one thing, used the name as referring to a class of cellulose products, not a unique brand emanating from du Pont. (It was the same mistake that the Otis Elevator Company made when in its advertising it used the trademark “Escalator” in conjunction with the common word “elevator.”)

And so, when du Pont challenged a competitor in court for filling orders for cellophane, it lost. The word, freed of all ties, went into the English language. Sic transit gloria mundi in the world of business when the proprietary trade term of a careless owner gets too popular.