5 Companies Absolutely Paranoid About Protecting Their Trademarks

Stopping calling my Xbox a Nintendo, Mom
5 Companies Absolutely Paranoid About Protecting Their Trademarks

If you use a brand name often enough in everyday conversation, it turns into a common noun, a process known as genericization. Not all companies suffer when this happens. We now refer to searching for anything online as “googling,” and this doesn’t seem to have hurt Google very much. Microsoft wishes people referred to searching as “binging” (if you ever hear someone call it that in a movie, that means Microsoft paid for product placement). 

At its most extreme, however, genericization can make a company totally lose control over its trademark. In the 1930s, a man named Dempster invented a product that he called the Dumpster, and within a few decades, people were saying “dumpster” so freely that Dempster lost all claim to the word. No company wants that to happen to their baby. And that is why, surprisingly enough...

LEGO Doesn’t Want You Calling Legos ‘Legos’

The LEGO website is Lego.com, which directs you to either shop for products or play games online. Let’s say that you were living 20 years ago and wanted to visit this site. You’d type the URL, because this is the first decade of the 21st century, and people still did type URLs sometimes instead of just typing in words and then letting the browser google them for you. Rather than Lego.com, you mistakenly type “Legos.com.”

LEGO owned that domain as well, and they’d redirect you to their real site. But first, they made you read the following message, scolding you for typing their name wrong and warning you never to call their stuff “LEGOS” in the future. They’re not LEGOS, you see. They’re “LEGO bricks or toys.”


It may not be immediately obvious why “LEGO bricks” is any more likely to resist genericization than “LEGOS,” but the intellectual property lawyers who advised them on this message surely gave the matter more thought than we have.

Today, if you try going to Legos.com, it doesn’t redirect you to the LEGO site at all, or to any other site. It seems no site’s parked there right now. We recommend that some enterprising reader buy up that domain themselves and redirect it to a site of their own, hopefully with photos of naked people. 

Nintendo Is Why We Call Game Consoles ‘Game Consoles’

Xboxes, PlayStations and Nintendo Switches are collectively called “consoles,” making consoles one way of playing video games, the other way being on a PC. That’s a funny choice of word, “console.” It already had a bunch of meanings related to computers and unrelated to video game systems. In fact, many video games have an internal tool called a console, where you can type commands, and this is available when you play on a PC but not through video game consoles. 

A few decades ago, it was common (among semi-clueless parents, at least) to call all video game systems “Nintendos.” You know who wasn’t a fan of this? Nintendo, which put out the following 1990 PSA. Mario himself asked you to avoid that language and preserve the company’s trademark. 


If not for Mario’s gentle lobbying, maybe 30 years later, we really would have ended up calling every kind of video game system a Nintendo. Consider how “microchip” is a registered trademark of one company called Microchip Technology but we started calling all chips “microchips” — at least, until we abandoned the word altogether. 

It’s Not Ultimate Frisbee. It’s Just ‘Ultimate’

When you toss a disc around using rules of some sort, do you call that game “Ultimate Frisbee”? You probably shouldn’t. A Frisbee is not just any toy you fling like a discus but a registered trademark of Wham-O toys. If that frisbee you’re playing with wasn’t manufactured by Wham-O, they don’t want you calling it a Frisbee at all. 

For that reason, the sport you know as Ultimate Frisbee — administered by the World Flying Disc Federation, an international body — is not really Ultimate Frisbee. The formal name of the sport is simply “Ultimate.” Sanctioned games also don’t use Frisbee-brand discs. They use other ones, not because generic is cheaper but because they’ve found better alternatives. 

Ultimate Tournament in Dallas

Adam Ginsburg

Maybe if Wham-O paid for naming rights, WFDF would change their minds.

Ironically, Frisbees themselves got their name through some trademark shenanigans. The inventors of the toy called it the Flyin-Saucer or the Pluto Platter. They sold the rights to Wham-O, who learned kids were calling them Frisbies because they resembled pie plates, made by the Frisbie Pie Co. Wham-O couldn’t get a trademark on Frisbie, which was the name of an existing company, but they could get a trademark by changing one letter. 

USPS Did Not Like a Band Named The Postal Service

In 2003, the United States Postal Service sent a cease-and-desist letter to the band The Postal Service. “The Postal Service” was a registered trademark of USPS, said the letter, and the band could not use it. 

That sounds like a dubious claim. Is that common phrase, without “United States” appended in front, really a trademark? Yes, says USPS, in its long trademark list, which also includes the seemingly generic term “Post Office.” And does this trademark also apply to something like a band, which is in a totally different industry and cannot be mistaken for the USPS? Whether or not it did, the band were ill-equipped to argue their case against the might of the U.S. government. 

In the end, USPS let the band keep their name. The band just had to include appropriate legal citations in the album notes — and also do promos for USPS. Don’t call that selling out, though. For many indie rock bands, getting your music into commercials is always the endgame. The band even later ended up lending their music to an ad for UPS, which is a postal service but not The Postal Service™.

Apple Records Were Worried About a New Computer Company Named Apple

The question of whether the music industry really is any separate from the rest of commercial world also came up back in 1991. This was the year that Apple Corps had a legal clash with the Apple Computer Company. Apple Corps was the British owner of Apple Records, a label most famous for The Beatles, while Apple Computers was a decade younger than them and seemed to be growing increasingly large.

Was there enough room in the world for two companies named Apple? Yes, conceded Apple Corps, in a legal agreement the two signed that year. There was just one condition: Apple Computers had to agree never to enter the music industry. That seemed like an easy concession, for a company devoted to building desktop computers.

Ted Lasso Rebecca Welton


“And you’ll also never enter the TV industry, right?”
“Well, of course not. What sort of business do you think I’m in?”

Then came the 21st century. Apple created the iPod. Then, they moved from merely playing music to selling music. By 2006, Apple Music was very much a thing, with iTunes responsible for some 6 percent of all music sales total. Apple Corps now took Apple Inc. to court, waving around their legal agreement, which the computer company had clearly violated. 

In the case of Apple v Apple, the court sided with Apple. Specifically, they sided with Apple Inc., the company formerly known as Apple Computers and today the owner of Apple Music. When it comes to trademarks, looks like paranoia is sometimes justified after all. 

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