What do you call a garment for infants and toddlers that’s a body suit with snaps at the crotch for easy diaper-changing? A “onesie”? No, no, gentle consumer, that’s not the case. Gerber (the baby stuff company, not the knife company) holds the trademark for the word “onesie.”
Generic trademarks are all around us: familiar words that started as trademarked brand names but eventually just came to represent the item, no matter who manufactured it. Some are familiar: “to Google” as a verb, Band-Aid, or Jell-O. We all use words like these even though we know full well that they’re really brand names.
There’s a reason why companies fight to protect their trademarks: eventually, consumers forget that the word was ever associated with a single brand at all. Aspirin and even heroin began their existence as trademarked product names belonging to Bayer. Familiar terms like zipper and escalator started out as brand names.
By gosh, Gerber is going to fight against having their product name suffer the same fate as heroin. Hmm, maybe that’s not the best comparison.
It’s a company’s right to protect and defend their trademarks, and we’re cool with that. Unless they’re being incredibly stupid about it, and then we’re going to make fun of them for years on end if necessary. That’s not the case with Gerber.
GERBER VS. THE SMALL BUSINESSMOM
We heard from a reader who is a parent with a fun cash-generating hobby making her own baby snapsuits at home. Bodysuits. Not onesies. She didn’t know that “Onesie®” is a registered trademark as opposed to just a noun that describes a cute one-piece baby outfit. She sold her products on craft super-site Etsy, until she received a notice that she had to remove the word “onesie” from her listings, Or Else. “That’s right, my part-time hobby Etsy shop that sells handmade onesies – I’m sorry, bodysuits – is apparently a threat to the corporate behemoth,” she grumbled.
Now, this seller/mom, who didn’t want us to even mention her name because she was cautioned not to talk about the situation, could still get away with selling her wares if she didn’t make the suits herself. If she were silkscreening, embroidering, or otherwise embellishing actual Onesies® that she bought from Gerber or a distributor, she’d be in the clear. That’s why sites like Etsy and eBay can’t just disable the term in their listings search: there are sellers with legitimate licensed items who have the right to use the trademarked term.
This topic comes up over and over again on Etsy in their user forums. The problem? “Onesie” is the word that a customer actually would use. One seller “My onesie dresses have slumped to hardly any views,” complained one seller on the forums. “What makes it really hard is to see [so] many onesie dresses listed as onesie dresses and they are not Gerber onesie.”
Gerber’s website is pretty clear when it comes to who is allowed to use the word. Onesies first hit the market in 1982, and the company has been, as they put it, “aggressive” in defending the trademark since.
The Onesies® trademark, or any confusingly similar variation thereof (e.g., “Onesie” or “Onezees”), may not be used as a generic descriptor or a noun; it should be used only as an adjective, when referring to the Onesies® brand by Gerber®.
On their usage page, they mention the great name recognition for the product: 95%! The question is, do 95% of Americans know that it’s only Gerber-made infant bodysuits that can use the O-word, or do they just associate the word with all one-piece clothing outfits for adults and for kids?
Don’t Call That Baby Bodysuit a Onesie – Unless Made by Gerber [eBay Selling Coach]