When the first small form factor memory that would plug into a USB port became available, the company making the devices called them ThumbDrives, and so, as is my way, I began calling them thumb drives.

So did a lot of other people.

But the company that had developed those devices was wanting to get the name trademarked, and over the last 10 years had not been able to achieve that status.

In the mean time, people began calling them USB drives, memory sticks, flash drives, and a few lesser used names. But the largest number of people in the U.S. now tend to call these little units flash drives, or thumb drives.

But the company that originated the units, first marketed through IBM, Trek 2000 has gotten the trademark, which means I’m going to have to start calling them flash drives – unless, of course, it’s made by Trek 2000.


Trek 2000 International, the proud trademark holder, began selling ThumbDrives in 2000 and applied for a trademark in 2007, which was initially then repeatedly refused because the trademark office ruled the term “thumb drive” to be generic. The company’s law firm says in its triumphant press release: “Fearing that its highly-valuable ThumbDrive™ trademark would go the way of other unique and famous marks that became generic and lost all their value – such as aspirin, e-mail, zipper and escalator – Trek engaged in a lengthy legal battle to avoid this fate.” … And prevailed on Nov. 30.

The appeals board was persuaded by the fact that other USB flash drive makers are already respecting ThumbDrive™ as a trademark and competing in the marketplace despite not using that term as a generic.

The article also states that from now on, not only must we refer to the drives correctly, when referring to the ones made by Trek 2000, the name must be capitalized, much as the spinning disk that people throw made by the company Wham-O is capitalized, and spelled Frisbee.

So, now that I know I have only once held a ThumbDrive, and all other times merely held, and owned, flash memory drives, I’m going to have to make the changes in speech and writing necessary, in the same way I had to modify when learning as a child that not all air-jet whirlpools were Jacuzzis.


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