A Yo-Yo By Any Other Name

A yo-yo by any other name….

I had never intended to follow up with another trademark post so soon, but I received some comments to the prior post that behoove me to do just that!  Today, the topic is genericide and, as I said in a Facebook post last month, “no, that’s not a typo.”

What would a yo-yo be called if not a yo-yo? Have you ever wondered if there’s a generic name for the toy (like tissues for Kleenex® brand tissues)? The name “yo-yo” was first trademarked in 1932, and at one time it was called a pocket disk toy. Probably most, and possibly none, of my readers would ever remember that name, however. Yo-yo’s have been yo-yo’s for most of our collective lives. As such, shortly after the introduction of the Duncan Butterfly (remember those?) in 1962 and a major television campaign by Donald Duncan, Royal Tops Company sued in federal court stating (and the court agreed on appeal) that yo-yo had become a part of common speech and Duncan no longer had exclusive rights to the term.

[Note: This post was written while I was a practicing attorney running a diverse solo law practice, and it is one of a small number of “legacy posts” that I have retained on the site. When published, this was one of my most popular posts. Since April 2015, I have been working as an executive coach and writer, and I am not currently available for legal engagements.]

The long and short of it is this: the name yo-yo fell subject to genericide. In other words, the trademark “died” because the word became part of the general lexicon as a description for the thing, not the brand. Hence the need for major brands to police their marks and make sure that we don’t refer to the PROPER NAME without the COMMON NAME included.


So that means it’s an Original Slinky Walking Spring Toy or a Band-Aid Brand Adhesive Bandage. Not the shorter, generic forms we often hear in common parlance. Hearing one’s brand name used universally is music to any brand-makers ears, but not their lawyers….

I assume that over half (maybe 99%?) of my readers here today will ignore this advice. Further, those of us who do try to follow it will fail from time to time. In fact, as I was reading up on my facts for this article, I came across an established webpage on branding that referred to “putting a band-aid” on something, as a manner of speech and without any disclaimers. Nonetheless, I am hereby informing you that’s a no-no (not a yo-yo) – even if the short-form references are clearly in jest – as I was advised yesterday by two very senior trademark folks. (One also added that there is no use playing games, as trademark attorneys do not have a sense of humor. So sad for me, but we do need to know the rules of the sandboxes we are playing in.)

Anyway, now you know how to keep out of trouble, with the trademark gods, at least. If you would like to know some more genericized, former marks that we can happily refer to directly, click here. And if my future posts look a bit awkward and wordy from time to time, now you’ll know why. (Or maybe from time to time I’m just not an eloquent writer. No, that can’t possibly be it.)

Alright, readers. My work here is done for today. Let’s see if more comments come. Tomorrow is another day!

Note: Additional information about genericide and trademarks can be found on the International Trademark Association’s website or in their enclosed PowerPoint presentation (click here) entitled Funeral for a Brand: How Trademarks Become Generic.

Author: Anne Marie Segal

ABOUT ANNE MARIE SEGAL Anne Marie Segal, founder of Segal Coaching LLC, is a career and leadership coach, author and resume writer who guides attorneys, executives and entrepreneurs through career transitions, advancement, job interview preparation, leadership development and personal branding. A former finance and hedge fund attorney, Anne Marie has presented to the United Nations (ICTY/MICT), University of Chicago, United Way, Association of Corporate Counsel and National Resume Writers Association, among other organizations. She has published two career-related books: Master the Interview: A Guide for Working Professionals and Know Yourself, Grow Your Career: The Value Proposition Workbook, written on career and resume topics as a Forbes Coaches Council member at Forbes.com and been quoted on CNBC.com, Monster.com and other media outlets. You can learn more at AnneMarieSegal.com or visit her LinkedIn profile at linkedin.com/in/annemariesegal.

7 thoughts on “A Yo-Yo By Any Other Name”

  1. Just want to say your article is as surprising. The clarity in your post is simply great and i could assume you are an expert on this subject. Well with your permission let me to grab your feed to keep updated with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please carry on the rewarding work.


  2. Hmm it looks like your website ate my first comment (it was extremely long)
    so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I submitted and say, I’m
    thoroughly enjoying your blog. I as well am an aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to everything. Do you have any suggestions for inexperienced blog writers? I’d genuinely appreciate it.


    1. Suggestions for new bloggers?

      These would vary depending on your purpose for blogging, but here are three:

      1) Focus on content
      2) Build your audience by interacting with other blogs and bloggers
      3) Write on a topic you feel passionate about

      Good luck!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: