Most people associate a slow cooker with its most famous brand name, the Crock-Pot. A 1974 version of the humble slow cooker is even in the National Museum of American History. More than 12 million people buy a Crock Pot every year, and the brand far outsells its competitors.
Inventing a Solution
The Crock-Pot began with an inventor who wanted to solve a family problem.
Irving Nachumsohn was born in New Jersey in 1902. He patented several very successful inventions, including early versions of the electric fry pan and the breaking news ticker tape.
By 1936, his inventions were so financially lucrative that he could quit his job and form his own company, which he named Naxon Utilities.
The idea for a slow cooker had two sources. As a child, Nachumsohn grew up hearing stories about the Jewish tradition of cooking a stew on low heat overnight to prepare the Sabbath meal. Nachumsohn wanted to maintain the tradition while creating a method that would allow people to cook without turning on the oven during hot summer days.
He developed a cooker that used a ceramic crock to cook food slowly over several hours. The ceramic maintained the heat at a low, even temperature, didn’t heat up the house and did not have to be attended the way an oven did.
In 1940, he received a patent for a cooker he named the Naxon Beanery. It was a round ceramic pot with a heating element built into its panel.
The Naxon Beanery had some success with the public, but its popularity was limited by the fact that people thought it was just for cooking beans and stews.
Sale To Rival Manufacturing
In 1970, Naxon retired and sold his company to Rival Manufacturing, which was based in Kansas City.
Rival wanted to give the Naxon Beanery a makeover, and it asked in-house researchers to come up with different ways to use the cooker. A team of expert chefs created and tested several recipes.
The Crock-Pot Is Reborn
In 1971, Rival renamed the beanery the Crock-Pot and unveiled it a major industry showcase. The beanery had a new name, a new recipe book and fresh look. Marketed as a time-saving device for busy women, the Crock-Pot was a huge hit that raked in $93 million in sales by 1974.
Rival later sold the Crock-Pot to Sunbeam Products. In 2014, Sunbeam registered a trademark for Crock-Pot and for the slogan, “If it doesn’t say Crock-Pot, then it’s not the original.”
Still a Popular Slow Cooker
Today, despite facing competition from other slow cooker brands and the Instant Pot, the Rival Crock Pot remains a top seller and routinely heads “Top 10” lists of slow cookers. Many people have vintage models that still work well.
In 2018, the popular NBC drama This Is Us featured a faulty slow cooker as the cause of a fire that killed a beloved character. Crock-Pot responded with public reassurances that Crock-Pot slow cookers are safe to use. The company stressed that with over 100 million units sold in over 50 years, it has never received any safety complaints.
Despite this unexpected public relations problem, sales of the Crock-Pot actually increased after the episode.
This incredible popularity has created one serious trademark problem for Crock-Pot, however: the possibility of genericide.
What Is Trademark Genericide?
The term “genericide” means a product has become so closely associated with a particular brand name that the brand loses its trademark. The trademark, in other words, becomes the generic name.
How does genericide happen? It can happen if the public regularly uses a trade name instead of a generic name, for instance, using “Kleenex” instead of tissue, and the product’s competitors prove they can only compete if they use the same name.
With Crock-Pot, the frequent use of “crock pot” to refer to any slow cooker means the company needs to be vigilant about protecting its name. It’s common to see people use “crock pot cooking” as a generic term for using any slow cooker.
It Happens More Often Than You Think
Many commonly used terms were once trademarked. The following terms lost their trademark protections after courts ruled they could be considered generic.
- Aspirin: While still trademarked in Germany, Canada and other companies, this Bayer-owned trademark has become generic in the U.S.
- Flip phone: Originally a Motorola trademark, it is now a generic term.
- Laundromat: This Westinghouse-owned trademark expired in 1959.
These terms have become generic because the original trademark was not protected or renewed:
- Webster’s Dictionary: The publisher Merriam-Webster owns a trademark only on the name “Merriam-Webster.”
Read more on trademarks for common words.
How Do You Prevent Trademark Genericide?
Having a product so popular that it becomes the generic term for something may not sound like a problem, but it is if you want to preserve your legal right to it.
Inventors and business owners who want to ensure they retain their trademark should closely monitor its use by the public. Here are some steps you can take:
- Educate consumers about the proper spelling and use of your trademark. When Crock-Pot responded to the This Is Us publicity, it did so as Crock-Pot with a clearly visible “TM” symbol.
- Always present your trademark in its full format. Use the TM symbol and the correct legal spelling.
- Renew your trademark registration at regular intervals. For example, Sunbeam renewed its trademark of Crock-Pot and the slogan, “If it doesn’t say Crock-Pot, then it isn’t the original.”
- Affirm your trademark in court. In 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the term “to Google” could not become a generic term and Google could enforce its trademark protection. The court’s decision said that genericide should only happen when the “name becomes an exclusive descriptor” that makes it hard for competitors to market their product without using the same name.
A trademark attorney can help you monitor and protect your trademark.
At this time, Crock-Pot hasn’t faced any serious trademark disputes over its name. Crock-Pot appears poised to enjoy another 50 years as one of the world’s most loved slow cookers.