We’re all familiar with certain proprietary eponyms, that is, trademarked terms that originally refer to a specific product, but have been hijacked by the general public to refer to a group of generic products. Think about Kleenex, Band-Aids or Xeroxes. These terms were trademarked by companies for specific products, but now they are used as if they were common nouns. This is part of the danger of having a popular product: you want it to be a household name, but you don’t want that household name to get away from you.
This is the problem facing the makers of Skee-Ball. You remember skee-ball, of course. It’s that game found in arcades and boardwalks around the world, where you roll a ball up a ramp and into a hole. It’s an activity many of us have enjoyed, and it’s played a key role in popular entertainment, such as in the movie “Dogma” and on the show “How I Met Your Mother.” But, is skee-ball a proprietary eponym? Has it reached the level of zipper, yo-yo or shredded wheat, terms that were once trademarks that have since been declared legally defunct?
The issue has been in court for a while now, ever since Skee-Ball Inc. filed suit in federal court, claiming that the Skee-Ball league known as “Brewskee-Ball” was infringing on the company’s trademark. Brewskee-Ball has filed a countersuit, claiming that skee-ball is a generic term for the game.
Since news of the suit has spread, many skee-ball aficionados (Skeeheads?) have rolled their balls in support, hoping the league will snag the high score. There is now an online fundraising campaign designed to allow fans to show their support monetarily. The case is ongoing. No word on whether damages in the suit will be paid in tickets redeemable for stuffed animals.
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