Sunday, January 3, 2010

Cotton swabs, tissue and shortening - Part I

There are many products called only by their brand name, even if we’re buying generic. This includes Q-tips, Kleenex, and Crisco, among others. Is it the ubiquitous nature of the brand and its advertising or something yet more sinister at work here?


The name “Q-tips” came from the inventor of cotton swabs, Leo Gerstenzang. Few people know, however, that the original name of the product was Baby Gays. In 1926, Gerstenzang changed the name to Q-Tips Baby Gays to make it more marketable.

Eventually, the “Baby Gays” portion of the name was dropped to promote the idea that cotton swabs are for the whole family, not just babies. Maybe it’s a good thing they dropped that part of the name, too. Just imagine if we called all cotton swabs “Baby Gays!”

But what does the “Q” stand for? According to many sources, the Q in “Q-tips” stands for quality. The company later took advantage of this (for a very limited time) with the marketing of a kit of baby-care products called “Q-things.” These included “Q-Talc,” “Q-Soap,” “Q-Oil,” “Q-Cream,” and “Q-tips.”

A 1953 lawsuit filed by the Q-tips company against Johnson & Johnson argued that J&J’s use of the term “Johnson’s Cotton Tips” violated the Q-tips trademark. Although no money was awarded to Q-tips for this suit, it was deemed that Q-tip is a trademarked term and cannot be used in any shape or form in the name or packaging of a product developed by another company.

The report from this case states that
“there is no doubt that “Q-tips” is a proper trademark unless it [serves] as either a generic name for the goods or a designation descriptive of them.”
Although the general public uses “Q-tips” as a generic term for cotton swabs, the term itself is unique enough to maintain its “trademark” status.

Next time, I will go more into tissues and shortening. For the sake of shortness, of course, I end here.

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