In a week of big stories, the outcome of Tiffany v. Costco was certainly the biggest, as a federal court in New York handed down a decision that answered the question: Has the term “Tiffany” become genericized, making it OK for anybody who’s selling a certain style of ring to refer to it as a “Tiffany setting?”
Tiffany & Co. first filed suit against Costco Wholesale Corp. on Valentine’s Day 2013, accusing the membership-only warehouse club of selling rings with signs designating them as “Tiffany” when they were not, in fact, rings made by Tiffany & Co. According to Tiffany, Costco even went so far as remove the Tiffany descriptor when it advertised these same rings online so as to avoid detection.
Shortly thereafter, Costco fired back with a counterclaim insisting that the term “Tiffany” had become genericized and that the phrase “Tiffany setting” could be used to describe any engagement ring of a certain style.
Now, when most people think of generic, what comes to mind is non-brand-name products, like those black-and-white bags of potato chips my mom used to buy in Foodland because they were cheaper than Ruffles. I always wanted to experience the thrill of eating those ridged potato chips in my own home but, alas, it was not meant to be.
As it relates to trademarks, however, what generic means more specifically is a trademark or brand name that has become synonymous with a more general class of product or service.
This can happen organically—laundromat was once a trademarked term but its trademark expired—or against the wishes of the company or brand.
Picture Tiffany & Co.