When Trademarks Invade the Dictionary and more

Why are there so many tech layoffs, and why should we be worried; Trademarks Invade the Dictionary?

Trademarks are everywhere.

When you think of a soft drink, "Coke" might come to mind. If you cut yourself, you might ask for a "Band-Aid," not an adhesive bandage. These are trademarks – special names companies use to sell their stuff. But sometimes, these names become so popular that people start using them for any similar product, not just the brand. This can make the English language quite tricky.

Long ago, a man named King C. Gillette made a new kind of razor that used disposable blades. His last name, "Gillette," became a trademark for his razors. Over time, many people started saying "Gillette" when they meant any razor. This story shows how a brand name can become a common word.

Photo Credit: Gillette Diamond Logo 1908

"Escalator" is another interesting word. It used to be a trademark for moving stairs. But because people used it so much, it became just a regular word, no longer protected as a special brand. This happens to some words when everyone uses them all the time for anything similar. The companies that own these words can lose their exclusive rights if they're not careful.

Celebrities also often trademark their catchphrases to secure exclusive rights and monetize their unique expressions. For instance, Paris Hilton protected "That's hot," while Michael Buffer trademarked his iconic "Let's get ready to rumble!" Donald Trump once tried to trademark the saying "You're fired!"—the memorable line from his TV program. He hoped to have exclusive rights to this phrase so he'd be the only one profiting from its use. But, his request was denied. The reason? The phrase was already part of everyday language, and you can't trademark something that's already widely used by everyone. The trademark office looks to protect unique identifiers, not phrases that are already part of our daily chatter. In a similar vein, an attempt to trademark "Trump too small" was also rejected. The reason given was similar: the trademark would not be distinctive enough, falling short of the criteria that trademarks must be unique symbols of a product's origin.

Now, when trademarks turn into everyday words, some worry. They think our language shouldn't be controlled by companies. Words are how we share ideas and culture, and they feel it shouldn't be about selling things. On the other hand, companies argue that they worked hard to make a good product and their trademark is like a stamp of their hard work. In the past, some companies have fought hard to keep their names from becoming too common. For example, "Xerox" was once at risk of becoming a general term for photocopying. The company ran ads asking people to use "photocopy" instead of "Xerox" when talking about copying documents, no matter what machine they used. They wanted to protect their brand and make sure "Xerox" meant copies made by Xerox machines only.

Another brand, "Google," is a newer example. It started as a company name, but now we often say "Google it" when we mean "search online." Even though Google is okay with their name being used as a verb, they keep an eye out to make sure it's not used for just any internet search. They don't want to lose their trademark because it's a huge part of their identity.

So, where's the balance? It's a tough question. On one side, companies want to protect their trademarks—they want to make sure that when you ask for a "Kleenex," you're getting the specific brand of tissues they’ve made famous, not just any tissue. On the other side, people often use language in a way that's easy and familiar, turning brand names into everyday words. This is how a proprietary name like "Aspirin," originally a trademark, has become a generic term for a whole category of pain relievers.

Words come in and out of fashion, trademarks rise and fall, and we're all left wondering: who owns a word? Can someone claim ownership of something as slippery and ever-changing as language? Or is it just the natural way of things for trademarks to eventually become part of the public domain, a shared heritage shaped by generations of people using and playing with words?

And Who knows, you might create a memorable trademark that will have its moment in the spotlight before becoming a regular part of our vocabulary.

Beyond BS

Saving Energy Can Be a Game – Literally!

Photo Credit: Power House

If you have some free time today, consider trying out the online strategy game Power House on Facebook. It might sound simple—guiding a virtual family through household tasks using as little electricity as possible—but it's addictive and challenging. The unique part? It was designed by Byron Reeves and three other scholars at Stanford to encourage players to reduce real-world energy consumption. In the study, those who played Power House showed more energy-efficient behaviour immediately afterwards, both in a lab and in their own homes. The game makes conserving electricity a fun challenge, and the positive impact was observed even without players consciously connecting the game to their energy-saving actions. In a field test, there was a modest 2% decline in household energy use during active game sessions. While not huge, even small reductions across many players could make a meaningful impact, justifying the development of such games.

If the game works, then you’ll be a better citizen and save money. And if it doesn’t, well, there are far worse ways to spend a half hour.

Winter brings more than just ugly sweaters

Photo by Zoe / Unsplash

When winter rolls in, more happens than just the temperature dropping. People start to think and act differently. Alexandra Wormley and Mark Schaller, along with other researchers, looked into how the winter season changes us. They found that things like seasonal affective disorder, which has to do with getting less sunlight and putting on extra weight in the winter as an old way our bodies dealt with not having enough food, are all part of how winter affects us. In winter, people often show improved concentration. Research in Belgium indicates better performance on attention tasks during this season, potentially due to decreased sunlight-altering brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. This trend is also seen in nature, with certain animals demonstrating enhanced navigational abilities in winter.

Their study also indicates a notable uptick in charitable donations and a 4% increase in tips to service staff in areas where Christmas is widely celebrated. This seasonal altruism is less about the winter environment and more about the cultural emphasis on giving during this time.

Overall, as humans, our behaviours and moods are indeed influenced by the seasons, leading us to eat more, be less active, and connect more with others in winter. The seasonal changes we observe now could be just the beginning, as ongoing research continues to reveal the diverse ways the seasons shape our lives. Read more: TheConversation

Why are there so many tech layoffs, and why should we be worried? Stanford scholar explains

Photo Credit: Scholastic

Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer from Stanford Graduate School of Business warns that the increasing layoffs in the tech industry carry serious health risks, leading to higher rates of death and disease. He sees these layoffs as a result of "social contagion," where companies imitate layoffs from one another without solid reasoning. Dr. Pfeffer argues that this trend harms not just employees but also corporate performance, as layoffs fail to cut costs or boost productivity. He cautions against the myths of layoffs' benefits, pointing to research that links them to a rise in mortality and suicide risk. Pfeffer discredits the idea that layoffs save costs or improve performance, pointing out their negative effects on employees' health, stress levels, and even suicide risk. Advocating for evidence-based management, Pfeffer proposes alternatives like pay cuts or employee re-skilling in tough economic times. He stresses the critical need to reconsider company strategies in light of the disturbing health outcomes associated with layoffs and calls for a shift toward prioritizing human well-being. Read more at Stanford News.