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Is “Powerpoint” Generic Yet?

A brand name that is used too generically by too many people risks losing its legal trademark status. (Xerox and Kleenex have fought hard against this, while Aspirin and Band-Aid have lost their trademarks.)

According to BitLaw, “A valid trademark can become generic if the consuming public misuses the mark sufficiently for the mark to become the generic name for the product. The prime examples of former trademarks that became the generic name for a product are ASPIRIN and CELLOPHANE. Current trademarks that were once considered to be candidates for becoming generic are XEROX and KLEENEX. XEROX has spent a great deal of advertising money to prevent misuse of its mark. By doing so, XEROX has likely avoiding the loss of its trademark.”

The IP Counsel Blog calls this process “generocide”: “Generocide is the term coined to describe the loss of a trademark that no longer serves as an indicator of a source of goods because consumers came to regard the trademark as a generic term.”

Software is as susceptible as any other product (see this article about Google’s trademark peril). Though this seems like a real risk, I think we are about to see a different trademark loss occur.

The word is “powerpoint,” and it is used generically by millions of people to mean “presentation graphics” or a “slideshow presentation created on a computer.” Those terms don’t sound familiar to many people, because they’re awkward synonyms of the vernacular “powerpoint.” In my own office, our people say “powerpoint” all the time. They don’t mean “Microsoft PowerPoint.” They could mean anything from a self-running Flash presentation, to a word processing document, to a series of JPGs in a folder, to a web page! The only common thread is that they succinctly and beautifully (depending on the skill of the creator) summarize the sales pitch being made. And they almost always use “powerpoint” as a noun.

I think it’s time we formalize this situation. Why? To make it easier to talk about a “powerpoint” that I made using Impress or KPresenter or Corel Office. When your professor says, “Turn in your assignment powerpoints at the beginning of class,” she’s not trying to make you purchase a $500 software program (unless she’s a big shareholder of MSFT). You can use any of a dozen tools, many free, to generate your assignment, no different than when she asks you to turn in a web page. You can say to your prof, “Can I use OpenOffice Impress to make my powerpoint?” and she’ll say “Use what you want, I don’t care.” (That’s my idealized version, anyway.)

Returning to the IP Counsel Blog, to avoid generocide, the trademark should:

  1. be used as an adjective. Not “Xerox”, but “Xerox photocopier”;
  2. not be used as a noun of any type, singular, plural or possessive. not “put on a band-aid”, or “two band-aids”, or “band-aid’s adhesive quality”, but rather “put on a Band-Aid bandage”, or “the adhesive qualities of Band-Aid bandages”; and
  3. not be used as a verb (never “Xeroxed”, but rather, “photocopied”).

The first two conditions are rarely met when one talks about a powerpoint. Thus, the crux of my argument. Still not convinced? Look at definition two of “PowerPoint” on

So why am I writing this? I want to start a blogmeme and see if others pick up and pass this idea around the net. I think it would be fun and maybe subversive to raise this issue. It just might, with luck, enter the public consciousness and help solidify my premise that powerpoint is a generic term and should be recognized as such.

6 Responses to “Is “Powerpoint” Generic Yet?”

  1. Jared Says:
    March 15th, 2006 at 8:05 pm

    I know exactly what you mean. Great article.

  2. Puppesurferen Says:
    March 16th, 2006 at 4:09 am

    I’d say powerpoint has long since become a generic term. The line was crossed already years ago and you hear even people using StarOffice’s Impress, OpenOffice’s Impress, Apple’s Keynote, Corel Presentation, and all the others still call the activity ‘powerpoint’ rather than a presentation or presentation graphics.

    Invitations to speak or lecture are always accompanied with a request for a accompanying ‘powerpoint’, even calling presentations done on Impress, Keynote, or Presentation ‘powerpoint’ anyway. Especially for non-English speakers, powerpoint is the generic term for presentation graphics and presentations graphics software.

  3. Jaime Cardoso Says:
    March 20th, 2006 at 11:07 am

    And, to think that I’ve been ranting to anybody (and everybody) to stop saying “send me the excell” to start saying “send me the spreadsheet” and there you came to take this “handicap” into our advantage. LOL, loved it

  4. DJosephDesign Says:
    March 22nd, 2006 at 2:36 pm

    This bothers me so much in my office. But I’ve totally changed my use of the word “PowerPoint” to be the same as “crap,” “nuts,” or “garbage.” It works perfectly! “Oh, POWERPOINT! I spilled my coffee.”

    It’s especially great when I hear people talk about someone “giving a PowerPoint presentation.” Considering the terrible quality of the majority of digital presentations out there, the title fits perfectly.

  5. Anthony John Trimboli Says:
    March 24th, 2006 at 9:43 pm

    I enjoyed reading the part of your website devoted to Powerpoint, which I am learning about in my Computer Science class in a small college in Downtown Brooklyn, NY that I love. The teacher stresses the importance of powerpoint in an office setting and I could believe it. I really enjoyed reading about Powerpoint– it was an interesting story.
    -Anthony, age 26 Office worker in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, NY social organization, Student at small college in Downtown Brooklyn, NYC, NY

  6. Alessandro Says:
    March 31st, 2006 at 5:27 pm

    Just dropping a few lines to let you know that the same is happening in Europe and here in Italy were I live. Not the same we could say here for “band-aid” and others. ciao