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A mark is not generic merely because it has some significance to the public as an indication of the nature or class of an article. In order to become generic the principal significance of the word must be its indication of the nature or class of an article, rather than an indication of its origin.
Appellant King-Seeley Thermos Co. (King-Seeley) brought the present action to enjoin the defendant, Aladdin Industries, Incorporated from the threatened infringement of eight trademark registrations for the word “Thermos” owned by appellant. In its answer, defendant acknowledged its intention to sell its vacuum-insulated containers as “thermos bottles,” but asserted that the term “thermos” or “thermos bottle” was a generic term in the English language. Defendant asked that appellant’s registrations of its trademark “Thermos” be cancelled and that it be adjudicated that appellant has no trademark rights in the word “thermos” on its vacuum bottles. The trial court held that the appellant’s registrations were valid but that the word “thermos” had become a generic descriptive word in the English language synonymous for “vacuum insulated” container. Appellant challenged the decision.
Could appellant claim monopoly over the word “thermos,” thereby restricting defendant’s use to the same?
The Court held that the word “thermos” became a part of the public domain, not because of some failure on the part of the appellant, but because the great majority of the public who used the word "thermos" were not aware of any trademark significance. According to the court, the primary significance to the public of the word “thermos” was its indication of the nature and class of an article rather than as an indication of its source; thus, there was not enough dual use to support appellant's claims to monopoly of the word as a trademark. The word having become part of the public domain, it would have been unfair to unduly restrict the right of a competitor of appellant to use the word. The judgment was affirmed. Nevertheless, defendant was to precede its use of the word with its name, and "thermos" was not to be capitalized.