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Google Sends Legal Threats to Media Organizations 449

rm69990 writes "Google, becoming more and more concerned about the growing use of the word google as a verb, has fired off warning letters to numerous media organizations warning them against using its name as a verb. This follows google (with a lowercase g) being added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary in June. According to a Google spokesperson: "We think it's important to make the distinction between using the word Google to describe using Google to search the internet, and using the word Google to describe searching the internet. It has some serious trademark issues.""
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Google Sends Legal Threats to Media Organizations

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  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Monday August 14, 2006 @08:49AM (#15901874) Journal
    I think the reasoning behind this is that Google is attempting to preemptively stop any possible legal issues with their name. I mean, you run into issues when things are known by a brand name []. Take for instance Kleenex, Jell-O, Frisbee & Hoover. You know what all these are and there's a fairly good chance you've called an imposter brand the same name.

    What I speculate Google is worried about is that the verb "googled" becomes generic for search as in "I googled it." And the law says you can't trademark something that is generically used. Essentially, if a case occurred with a rival search engine putting "Just google it!" at the top of their page and the court said they could do that because 'google' is a generic term, then you would have precedent for millions of Google imposters seeking to make money off the Google name (since it just means search to the general public).

    Google figures it already is a household name. The last thing they need is the media dumping 'google' as a verb in the papers because if they start putting it in headlines and stories--it's a much easier case for another company to claim it is part of the English language. Hell, it's already in two entries in the Oxford dictionary []. I think you could already argue a case to use the word "google" to mean search on your site.
  • by ExE122 ( 954104 ) * on Monday August 14, 2006 @08:50AM (#15901881) Homepage Journal
    What the hell is Google thinking? Any mention of their name is great publicity and they should be happy with it. Instead they look like a bunch of corporate penny mongers trying to be a general inconvenience.

    It almost reminds me of the time that Despair, Inc. [] patented the frowney emoticon :-( and threatened to charge anyone that used them. "Let our message to trademark violators be clear. Whether you are a 4th grade nothing using your momma's AOL account, or you are Time Magazine's 'Man of the Year', we are going to hunt you down, and when we do, we're really going to give you something to :-(® about."

    The only difference is that Despair was only joking :-P.

    "A man is asked if he is wise or not. He replies that he is otherwise" ~Mao Zedong
    • Because if they don't do this they lose their trademark, and once their trademark is gone anyone can use the term Google, for the name of another search engine even. At that point all that great publicity is worthless.

      Ask the original makers of aspirin how all the great publicity for the word aspirin is working out for them now.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 14, 2006 @08:50AM (#15901883)
    Anyone hear about that one site that got slashdotted the other day after it got posted on Digg? It was down for ages!
    • Not offtopic (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @08:59AM (#15901925) Journal
      Anyone hear about that one site that got slashdotted the other day after it got posted on Digg? It was down for ages!
      Someone please grasp the subtlety of the parent (though I wish they hadn't posted AC)... The motivation for modding it offtopic is exactly why Google seeks to keep 'to google' out of the vernacular.

      Obviously, some moderator was upset that 'to be slashdotted' was associated with Digg in the parent. I think this just validates why Google is taking this action.

      Anyway, nice one, AC.
      • Yeah, modding him off-topic is kinda Farked up.
      • Google = hypocrites (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Hao Wu ( 652581 )
        Google copied their own name from "Googol" [], which has been claimed by the descendants of Milton Sirotta who invented the term.

        They also stole "Googolplex" [] to name their corporate offices.

        Google is as bad as Micromart, Wal-soft, and LOL. Part of their success is making you think otherwise.

      • I agree. Both 'google' and 'slashdot', as verbs, have very specific meanings that are lost in generalization. For example, the other day, on some news site or other, I saw two links at the top of the story: "digg this" and "slashdot this". What they meant to say, of course, was "submit this story to (digg|slashdot)". However, to a long-time slashdotter (I have two UIDs, one orphaned, one active), "slashdot this" struck me as a Very Bad Idea, as it actually said "reduce this server to multi-kilobuck toxic sl
  • Too late (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ral315 ( 741081 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @08:51AM (#15901885)
    Like many other companies, they didn't worry about it until it became too mainstream to stop. It's like LEGO wanting people to call them "Lego bricks" instead of "Legos", or Kleenex using "Kleenex brand tissues"- it's not going to happen, and at some point they will lose their trademark rights because of it.
    • Re:Too late (Score:4, Insightful)

      by peipas ( 809350 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @09:05AM (#15901958)
      ...and at some point they will lose their trademark rights because of it.

      I think Kimberly-Clark will have to worry about losing their Kleenex trademark no sooner than Disney's copyrights expire. Read: never.
    • Part of the trademark process is active protection of same. This is all Google is doing. Making a good faith effort to prove they're intent on keeping their trademark. Neither Lego nor Kleenex has lost their trademarks, right? Neither shall Google.

      P.S. Google -- if it starts with a lowercase letter, it's not your name.
    • Too late? There is no way Google could have stopped it. You might as well try to stop the world from turning rather than prevent new words from being created and adopted.
  • How does it hurt google for it's name to used as a verb?

    I think, if anything, it would help google. I think that anything that makes your business name a household word, would be be helpful.

    The media using google as a verb simply reflects the reality of the widespread use of "google" as a verb.
    • '' How does it hurt google for it's name to used as a verb? ''

      Same as it hurt Xerox that their name was used as a verb. Once it becomes part of the language, it can lose its trademark status. Like Xerox, Google doesn't really care if you use the word, they are just legally obliged to send you a threatening letter.
    • The problem is that, according to the current dictionary defintion [] of the verb "google" it would be correct for someone to say, "I googled it on MSN." or "I googled it on Yahoo."

      That is probably part of why Google is concerned.

    • If that happened, Yahoo would be able to use the word "Google" in their advertising. Trademark laws are actually in place to protect consumers. Imagine if Yahoo were able to advertise and say things like "Come use our Google Search at!"

      People know about Google and know they want Google, so if Yahoo were able to use "Google" in their advertising, people could end up being tricked into using something that isn't what they want.
    • >How does it hurt google for it's name to used as a verb?

      It would hurt Google when the owner of Joe's Shitty Search Appliance Co., branded his product as a "Google Box" and people would buy it, thinking they were getting Google-quality searches. Once the owner of trademarked name loses control of its use (i.e. the word becomes a generic description of something i.e. klennex, white out, etc.), there is nothing Google could do to stop Joe from selling his shitty boxes under Google's name.

  • That's fine... we'll just use "yahoo" (Of course it would be lower case "y") as a verb instead... *sigh* "I'm going to yahoo that..." -It just doesn't have the same ring to it...
  • Xerox [] (see "The Xerox Trademark" at the bottom of the page) has been getting bent out of shape for years over the thought of people "xeroxing" things; why should Google be any different?

  • I don't understand why Google would be upset by this usage. They have lots of word-of-mouth advertizing that gets done when people refer to "googling" something.

    My Chem 101 teacher even used the term often in lecture. And I'll bet that the kids who "googled" the things he recommended used Google 10 times out of 10.

    It seems to me that Google has a lot ot gain from being synonomous with searching the internet.
  • Has anybody googled the author?
  • Would you rather be "googled" or "yahooed?" Somebody saying "I yahooed you" makes it sound like they zapped you with a yodelling ray. Suddenly you feel the need to climb mountains and wear Lederhosen.

  • Protecting Trademark (Score:5, Informative)

    by chad9023 ( 316613 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @08:59AM (#15901926)
    No, this does not make Google evil. Like any company, they have to protect their trademark, or they risk losing it. If some other company can show that people are using the term Google generically (not referring to Google itself), that Google knew about this and did not take action to prevent it, then they can challenge the trademark.
  • Google is a trademarked name, and as such they are required to aggressively defend it or they will lose it.

    There was even a case where Hershey Foods sued Simon and Schuster over using Hershey-owned images and trademarks in a book about their marketing of the book "Hershey: Milton S. Hershey's Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire and Utopian Dreams." Hershey Foods ultimately lost, but by law had they not attempted to defend their mark they could well have been facing an attempt to have the mark thrown out.

  • I'm going to google Angelina Jolie right now! What do you think of that?
  • If they are trying to disconnect the word Google from searching in the public's mind, it can only be because searching isn't high on their future plans and they want people to think of Google in a different way.
    The fact they want "Google searching" or "searching to with Google" to be explicitly stated really does sound like they want 'googling' to be something else entirely in five years.
  • Perhaps someone who knows about trademark law can enlighten us:

    Does Google have any leverage over these people?

    If ABC News (or a private individual) wants to use the word "google" as a generic term, what if anything can google do about it?

    I understand that if Lycos or Yahoo tried to use the trademark "google" to describe their search engines, that's actionable. But can Google (the company) do anything about google (the generic word meaning "to search on the internet"?
    • Google probably doesn't care that much if they stop using it or not. The important thing here is that Google can now say they sent letters asking them to stop, which would show that they tried to keep the word from being diluted.
  • Not taken aback. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ayeco ( 301053 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @09:04AM (#15901954)
    From the article: Web veterans have also been taken aback by Google's suddenly humourless approach.

    I'm not sure why The Independant is speaking for this web veteran. I'm not taken aback. I respect this move by Google. This seems like a perfectly legitimate way to defend their trademark.
  • by Rik Sweeney ( 471717 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @09:04AM (#15901957) Homepage
    Anyone remember Buffy The Vampire slayer?

    Willow: Have you Googled her yet?
    Xander: Willow, she's seventeen!

    "Help" Season 7, Episode 4
  • by Rob T Firefly ( 844560 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @09:09AM (#15901979) Homepage Journal
    Once I was feeling artistic, so I Googled how best to Xerox my head onto a Playboy Bunny, maybe using some Scotch Tape, but found out I could Photoshop it instead. So, I had a Coke, grabbed some Kleenex, and got to work.. but was disturbed by my mom coming in to Hoover. So I quickly shut down the PC, and decided to use Crayolas and Play-Doh instead.
  • If I (and millions of other people) wish to use the verb "to google" to mean "to search for something on the internet" then we will and Google can do fuck all about it.

    Dictionaries, whose job in the English speaking world is to descriptively (we don't have prescriptive dictionaries like the French and Germans) document meaning and usage of the English Language, would be failing in their duty if there was no entry reflecting the use of "to google" in the sense described above.

    Me(to Google the search engine c
  • WANT your brand name to be synonomous with the product/service you provide. This is the ULTIMATE marketing coup.

    For instance, many times somebody will say, "Do you wnt a coke?" when they mean, "do you want a soda." "You will need a Jeep to get up that trail" meaning "you will need a 4x4..." The list goes on.

    Everytime the Washington Post or Time prints, "the father found out his daughter was a prostitute after googling her name..." is free advertisement for Google, and simply reinforces a self sust
  • Would these be the same media companies whose content Google is stealing on Google News?
    • Theft? (Score:2, Informative)

      by krell ( 896769 )
      "Would these be the same media companies whose content Google is stealing on Google News?"

      I google the news on Google News a lot. However, I've never seen stolen news there. I've seen copied news, but nothing stolen. I'm always able to find the original source, still there, easily.
  • by Viceice ( 462967 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @09:16AM (#15902023)
    Before everyone starts with the "OMG, Google is Evil!" let me say this.

    Companies have collective wet dreams about their product names replacing generic terms, like Panadol instead Paracetamol, or Coke instead of Cola. But this is always as a reenforcement of their brand, if the term "brand" is understood NOT as simply a logo and pakaging, but all the intrinsic values of the product combined. For instance, if you ask for Panadol, it's for the brandname drug that is fast acting and effective in a low dose.

    So when we say "to google" we mean to use this very efficient search engine with a low signal to noise ratio to quickly come up with a useful fact. Googles beef with this is the use of "to google" to mean "Use any search engine to...", this is akin to you going to a restaurant and upon asking for a Coke, you are instead served a Pepsi or Dr. Pepper.
    • this is akin to you going to a restaurant and upon asking for a Coke, you are instead served a Pepsi or Dr. Pepper.

      Not really, every resturant I've been in to will ask you if it's OK to serve you a different type of cola. If I ask for a Coke and they don't serve it then I'm asked if Pepsi will be OK.

      At which point I ask for a lemonade...
      • Well, yes. The point being if you were served a Pepsi instead of being asked if it was ok to, you'd be outraged. Just like Google will be outraged if "to google" was used in refrence to say, MSN Search.
    • ...this is akin to you going to a restaurant and upon asking for a Coke, you are instead served a Pepsi or Dr. Pepper.

      I can't fucking stand when that happens. Whenever it does I send it back. I didn't order a Pepsi (aka sewer water with sugar added), I ordered a Coke. If they don't server cokde they should have told me so I could order root beer. When a waiter/waitress does this I feel like throwing it all over them and saying "oh, you didn't order a Pepsi? Well, neither did I".

  • by $RANDOMLUSER ( 804576 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @09:22AM (#15902051)
    Q-tip, Xerox, Escalator, Velcro, and Band-Aid are some more that haven't been mentioned yet.
    Wiki entry for Genericized Trademark here []
  • A class action lawsuit has been filed by people with the name "john" has been filed against toilet manufacturers and publishers in an attempt to prevent the term 'john' from being used to describe the latrine.

  • Japanese (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kahei ( 466208 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @09:23AM (#15902062) Homepage

    Aww, the Japanese verb 'guguru', to search on the internet, is almost the only import from English that I don't hate. It's cool the way it becomes a proper verb with a full set of conjugations:

    guguru -- google it
    guguritakunakunaru -- to no longer want to google it
    guguriyagaru -- f@@king google it
    gugureba -- archaic pluperfect tense, now used as a subjunctive
    gugurikarikeri -- poetic form: 'to have once been googled... and perhaps to be googled again'

    Possibly from proto-Japonic '*gugumi', c.f. Goryeo '*g-g-o'.

    Mind, I suppose it would depend on whether Google trademarked 'google' spelt in katakana.

  • That's just totally google, man.

    Lessee. that's an exclamation and an adjective. I'm having trouble making it sound right as an adverb.

    On second thought, I think we should use it in the manner the Smurfs used the word "smurf".

  • It beats the hell out of saying that you are 'yahooing' the internet.
  • Unfortunately (for Google), this is probably a lost cause. When a product or a service becomes so dominant that its very name comes to represent the entire genre, that battle is already lost. Siccing a whole herd of lawyers (that's what multiple lawyers are, right? A herd? Any way, I digress) on offenders won't put the genie back into the bottle. Xerox, Kleenex, Frisbee and other companies and company's products have gone through with little success. People still refer to the name as the generic identifier.
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @09:39AM (#15902162)
    Sony lost its "walkman" trademark for just the same reason: It became an everyday word for a portable cassette player with earphones, so everyone may call his product "walkman".

    I can understand the move. They sure as hell don't need more "market presence", they already have it. But isn't it interesting how things change? During my marketing courses, our teacher was running up and down with the primary goal to make your product name the "generic" name for the product group, so your brand is on everyone's mind when they think about the product group. Today, it's the worst thing that could happen to you, you may well lose your brand that way.

    Did I already say today that brand/patent/copyright laws are sometime a little off the path of common sense?
    • Sony lost its "walkman" trademark for just the same reason: It became an everyday word for a portable cassette player with earphones, so everyone may call his product "walkman".

      While it's true that Sony lost the Walkman trademark in Austria [] due to technicalities, it remains under their control everywhere else.

  • by null etc. ( 524767 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @09:50AM (#15902227)
    Amongst the general population, the accepted usage of the term "google" is to denote the process of performing a search via the Google Internet search engine. However, at Google's own corporate campus, the verb form of the word "Google" takes on several different meanings, depending upon context. Following are some examples to illustrate the multi-faceted use of the word "Google":

    "He insisted on programming the solution in Perl, but I googled him around a bit and he finally reprogrammed it in PHP." Translation: to bully.

    "The manager wanted the TPS reports yesterday, but I told him my email must have been googled and that I would have to resend it." Translation: to get lost in a mess of seemingly incomprehensible data.

    "She has nice legs, but I heard that one guy who asked her out got reprimanded by the googles." Translation: overly sensitive PC/PR lawyers who retain power through the threat of incoming litigation.

    "I checked my stock balance the other day an my shares had dropped $200! I lost over a million dollars! Then I woke up and realized it was just a google." Translation: nightmare.

    "I wanted to buy the new GM hybrid, but after I read the consumer safety warnings about its sneaky legal tactics, that googled me over to Toyota." Translation: to drive away customers via bad corporate reputation.

  • by The_REAL_DZA ( 731082 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @10:15AM (#15902380)
    The Top-10 Alternatives to "I googled it" (note the lower-case 'g'):

    • 10 "I AltaVista'd it" [] (potential ad campaign: "Hasta la vista, Google!")
    • 9 "I Yahoo!'d it" [] (Good luck with that lawsuit; it's been in the official motto of several states for decades!)
    • 8 "I Asked it" [] (AKA "I just axed it", since they "axed" poor Jeeves...)
    • 7 "I HotBot'd it" [] (She's not all that hot these days...)
    • 6 "I WebCrawler'd it" [] (Crawl being the operative word; no speed records broken here!)
    • 5 "I Accoona'd it" [] (Possibly illegal to admit in several states)
    • 4 "I Lycos'd it" [] (Not to be confused with "I Pecos'd it" from the 1950's...)
    • 3 "I Netscaped it" [] (That's netscaped not netscraped)
    • 2 "I AOL'd it" [] (Roughly analogous to "I screwed it up")

      and the #1 alternative to "I googled it":
    • 1 "I Dogpile'd it" [] (Imagine Cartman in the "red rocket" scene...)

  • by slashdotmsiriv ( 922939 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @10:40AM (#15902566)
    On related news, YouTube is taking legal steps against the US Senate for using its brand name to describe the internet ... Senator Stevens was not available for comment ...
  • by BertieBaggio ( 944287 ) * <bob&manics,eu> on Monday August 14, 2006 @10:58AM (#15902730) Homepage

    Although in some ways the pervasion of Google as a verb might possibly be a Bad Thing (TM) for them (as reflected in earlier comments), they just appear petty to people by doing this. I would have thought such widespread use just reflects the strength of their brand.

    Adobe also gets their knickers in a twist about the use of 'Photoshop' as a verb. Though I'm not totally sure it's not meant in a 'It's funny. Laugh' [] sense...

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