Think your dog is a great Frisbee catcher? There is only a small chance that you are right…and it has nothing to do with his catching ability. Look down at that flying disc that Fido has in his mouth. You may call it a Frisbee, but, more likely than not, it isn’t. If it says Hyperflite on the bottom then it is most definitely not a Frisbee disc. Frisbee, is a registered trademark of Wham-O, Inc. The ubiquitous flying disc, is known to the masses as a “Frisbee” because that was the clever name given to it by its inventor just after it was first patented. While the original patent for the Frisbee-brand flying disc has long since lapsed, the Frisbee trademark lives on.
Convincing folks to call their flying discs something other than Frisbees has always been a challenge. In fact, to Hyperflite, and other manufacturers of flying discs, getting folks to call our discs something other than Frisbees, is a bit like trying to make water flow up hill. For a time, Hyperflite tried to wean people off of the trademark “Frisbee” with our “Don’t use the F-word” campaign. We even printed up shirts with the F-word slogan on them (there are even a few antiques from the “F-word campaign” still for sale at the Skyhoundz store). Of course, the F-word to which we refer is the trademark “Frisbee” and not the infamous four-letter word that shares the same initial letter. If we learned anything from that campaign it was that it is enormously difficult to coax people to stop using a word or term that they are comfortable with. When Hyperflite was founded in 2000, we put a big glass jar on our office’s conference table. Every time anyone used the “F-word” to refer to a flying disc, the offender had to put a quarter in the jar. That menacing glass jar, coupled with our frequent lectures, helped change behavior somewhat, but the jar still managed to get full.
In a way, it’s easy to understand that folks cling to the use of the trademarked term “Frisbee” to describe their passion for canine disc play and competition. You may hear a disc dogger refer to his disc-catching canine as a disc dog, or a disc canine, but you are more likely to hear him talk about playing canine Frisbee with his Frisbee dog (also a trademarked term owned by Wham-O, Inc.). For the first 25 years of the sport, until Hyperflite came into being, a Frisbee-brand disc was the exclusive disc of the “Canine Frisbee disc Championship” that first existed. Although it was known by many names in the old days, and had many sponsors, the canine disc championship that existed back in those early days nearly always contained the words “canine Frisbee” in the competition title.
With all this “Frisbee” talk, one might wonder whether the trademarked term “Frisbee” is in danger of falling into the public domain, or, to put it another way, becoming generic? Well, that depends upon whom you talk to. Wikipedia lists quite a few trademarked terms that have fallen into the abyss or that are teetering on the edge. Trademarks like aspirin, spam, escalator, kerosene, sheetrock, cornflakes, bikini and a host of others, are either endangered as trademarks or extinct in many countries.
How successful have we been in assisting in the effort to prevent “genericide” of the trademarked term Frisbee? Well, if you Google “Flying Disc” in quotes, you will get 274,000 hits. “Frisbee” commands well more than one million hits. Even the trademark “Hyperflite” gets more Google hits (300,000) than the generic term “flying disc.” It seems that we’ve done a better job of introducing folks to our own trademark than the generic term “flying disc.” To make matters worse, on rare occasions, we’ve even heard a few folks speak of tossing their “Hyperflites.” Noooooooo! Over the years, many others have been involved in this noble trademark preservation effort, including, but not limited to, disc golfers, ultimate players and the manufacturer of the Frisbee-brand flying disc itself, but the power of habit is a tough nut to crack.
Time will tell whether the trademark “Frisbee” will commit “genericide” like the trademarks “zipper” and “yo-yo.” In the meantime, if you visit Hyperflite headquarters in Roswell, Georgia, choose your words carefully when describing our flying discs. We still have that jar and we’re always listening!