Monday, September 10, 2007

Spackle® Gone?

Dear Mr. Norton: the morning paper (see above) reminded me that another great trademark has bitten the dust – yours. Like “escalator," it seems to have happened over a number of years…and no one (including yourself and the other members of your family) seems to have noticed.

A trademark used for a powder to be mixed with water or a ready-to-use plastic paste, SPACKLE was designed to fill cracks and holes in plaster before painting or papering. Today, the name usually appears in print in lowercase, either as a noun or as a verb. It’s actually a registered trademark of The Muralo Company of Bayonne, NJ. The original SPACKLE brand of products was introduced in 1926 and there’s plenty of information about it here.

The Muralo Company (Jim Norton, President) favors to independent paint and decorating products dealers – it doesn’t distribute through big-box/Home Center stores. Unlike Sherwin-Williams, another great brand, Muralo doesn’t own retail stores; it depends on “discriminating do-it-yourselfers and professional painting contractors.”

Other companies, including the aforementioned Sherwin-Williams and DAP, Inc., make “spackling paste.”

Despite a 100-year-plus history, the company hasn’t gone out of its way to protect its brand, though. The 1970 edition of The American College Dictionary doesn’t portray the word, whereas “Spackle” is clearly identified as a trademark in the ’99 edition of Encarta® World English Dictionary.

Why wouldn’t a small, family-owned company protect its valuable trademark? One answer may be distraction: The Muralo Company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2003, to protect itself against asbestos claims – the same kinds of claims the brought down Johns-Manville. Although the company website’s latest press releases are almost a year old, there’s still a Contractor Incentive Program that’s good ‘til the end of this year: Muralo is still going.

I’m not sure distraction counts as an excuse. My daddy was using the word “spackle” as a verb back when I was a young ‘un…the practice is clearly an old one, despite the Encarta entry. And as you can see in “Zits,” it continues to this day.

Maybe someone from the company will let Signalwriter know why it has let its trademark slip into common usage. A trademark’s age doesn’t mean it has to lose its standing, as Coca-Cola proves.

“Zits” by Jerry Scott & Jim Borgman. © 2007 King Features Syndicate, Inc. All rights reserved.


Richard Laurence Baron said...

Where does the brand name “Spackle” come from? Looks like I didn’t dig deep enough. Bob Rothstein, writing on in 2004, offered the following:

Polish has “szpachlowac” and Russian “shpaklevat” – to fill holes with putty or caulk. In Polish “szpachla” is a spatula or putty knife. The source of the Slavic terms is probably German “Spachtel” (also “Spatel”) from Italian “spatola,” an artist’s or pharmacist’s spatula. "Spackle" was patented (and the name copyrighted) by The Muralo Company of New Jersey in 1928. The company’s web site says nothing about the origin of the name; the Oxford English Dictionary suggestions a connection with German “Spachtel” for putty knife, mastic, filler; and with an obscure (to me) meaning of the English verb “sparkle,” namely, ' to overlay or daub with cement or the like.’

S Reeves said...

I never knew Spackle was a trademark and I grew up with a very handyman oriented father and 3 brothers. As the only girl I read the cans while my dad showed me how to paint, etc.

Isn't there some rule or law that says once a brand becomes so commonly known like spackle (not capitalized) that it becomes accepted as a word and no longer can be protected?