Interesting videos and posts at this website, owned by a former member of the American Association of Realtors who is complaining about the organization’s oversight, and who has received warnings about the use of the trademark REALTOR. She notes in her video that members of the association are not allowed to use the trademark in website URLs, and former or nonmembers are also not allowed to use the mark. But, she notes, who doesn’t use the word “Realtor” to refer to any real estate agent, not just a member of the association? She also notes that she owns a treatise on local real state law that refers to agents as realtors.
Is REALTOR generic? It’s certainly used as a noun rather than an adjective (“Ask for a REALTOR” not “John is a REALTOR real estate agent”). The Association even says, in advertisements, to “Call a Realtor today!”
And I agree that, even though I recognize the difference between a real estate agent (generic) and a Realtor (a member of the Association), I bet very few people (outside the industry) do recognize that difference. To me, it seems that this trademark is close to being generic. The one saving grace is that there is still a fairly easy way to describe an agent who is not a member of the association: a real estate agent. Still, though “realtor” is a simpler way to describe a person in that occupation, and I could imagine that a non-member could have a reasonable argument that he or she should have a right to use a word that all of the public uses in ordinary conversation.
My arguments, however, appear to be unavailing, at least before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, which, in 2004, determined that REALTOR was not generic. Much of the decision seemed to turn on a shoddily-produced survey by the petitioners seeking to cancel the mark and a very quality survey done by recognized professionals on behalf of the Association. (The Board indicated that, had the petitioner’s survey been performed properly, the result may be different. The Board also indicated that it saw no evidence indicating that the Association misused the trademark. Perhaps if they saw that YouTube video, they might be pursuaded otherwise?) There is also a potential separate argument that the Association obtained the REALTOR mark fraudulently, appropriating a common word that appeared in a Sinclair Lewis book. The Board hinted that the originator of the word was a member of the early formation of the Association, but did not rule on the fraud issue.