The Federal Trade Commission yesterday challenged the right of Formica Corp. to have the exclusive use of the name Formica.

In a petition filed before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Appeals Board, the FTC alleged that Formica has become the common descriptive name for decorative plastic laminantes used on counter tops and no longer can be a registered trademark.

The petition is the first filed by the FTC under Section 14 of the Lanham Trademark Act to cancel a trademark registration solely on the grounds that it has become generic, but similar challenges to other allegedly generic trademarks are expected.

The FTC said a trademark is considered to be generic when the general public uses it to describe a class of products rather then to identify a particular brand of manufacturer. Because only the holder of a trademark may use it, competitors are prevented from using a term that appropriately describes their product to consumers even though it may have become the common name for it, the FTC said. As a result, generic trademarks potentially create consumer confusion about the true nature and comparative value of competing products, the agency contended.

The FTC voted unanimously to file the cancellation petition.

Martin Friedman, president of Formica Corp., a subsidiary of American Cyanamid Co., yesterday called the FTC action "unnecessary and unjustified."

He contended that purchasers of plastic laminates are "well aware" that Formica is one of many competing brands."In fact, while Formica has the highest individual market share, more than 60 percent of all plastic laminates purchased and used in the United States are other brands such as Dart Industry's Wilson-art, General Electric's Textolite and Westinghouse's Micarta," Friedman said.