This Day in the Law
May 29

Otis Elevator Company Inventor Trademarks “ESCALATOR” (1900)

On May 29, 1900, Charles Seeberger, a member of Otis Elevator Company, registered the trademark "ESCALATOR," which greatly helped the company expand its business and profits.

In 1900, Paris hosted a world’s fair called the Exposition Universelle to celebrate and promote human achievements. The Exposition lasted around seven months and drew more than 50 million visitors. The Exposition also included over than 76,000 exhibits and covered over 1 square kilometer in Paris.

Many new inventions were shown to the public for the first time, including the escalator. In particular, Charles Seeberger, an American who worked for Otis Elevator Company, exhibited the world’s first step-type machine which he called an "escalator." Seeberger’s escalator was awarded a first prize at the Exposition for its unique and functional design.

On May 29, 1900, Seeberger registered "ESCALATOR" as a trademark for his moving stairway, and he received U. S. trademark No. 34,724. Seeberger also patented his new invention and eventually sold his patent and trademark rights to Otis Elevator. The trademark rights of "ESCALATOR" helped the company to expand its business and sell both escalators and elevators to a worldwide market.

However, in 1950, Otis Elevator lost its trademark rights to the mark "ESCALATOR." In the case Haughton Elevator Co. v. Seeberger, 85 U.S.P.Q. 80 (1950), the court found that the mark "ESCALATOR" had become generic and lost it original trademark status. The court determined that Otis Elevator failed to properly protect the mark and it had become recognized by the general public as the name for a moving stairway and not the source of the goods (i.e. the ESCALATOR of Otis Elevator). After this decision, the term "escalator" fell into the public domain and now anyone can freely use the term.

While Otis Elevator failed to property protect its mark and let it fall into the public domain, Otis Elevator still continued to grow during the 20th century. Today, Otis Elevator employs around 61,000 individuals and generated $12.9 billion in revenue in 2008. In addition, over 2.2 million Otis escalators and elevators operate worldwide in more than 200 countries and territories.

NOTE: A commonly accepted way to refer to a trademark is by capitalizing the term and using parentheses. As such, the trademark is written as "ESCALATOR" throughout this article, rather than "escalator" (which only represents the term).