Google Goes Generic?

The official Google blog carried a post titled Do You Google? It’s message was this: “You can only ‘Google’ on the Google search engine. If you absolutely must use one of our competitors, please feel free to “search” on Yahoo or any other search engine.” I learned of the Google post from an article taking Google to task for its “12-year-old lawyers . . . trying to reinvent the law.” Coincidentally we discussed generic usage of trademarks in class yesterday. I told my students that large corporations with well-known trademarks employ teams of lawyers to scour the world for unauthorized usages and send cease-and-desist letters to the offenders. I love these moments when the world breaks into the classroom.

I don’t agree with everything Hotchkiss says, maybe because as a lawyer I understand why Google needs to make a point about using “to Google” as a generic term meaning “to search.” Google made this point in a blog post, not in a cease-and-desist letter to The New York Times. Still, Hotchkiss gets it right when he says of other trademarks (e.g. trampoline, brassiere) that have passed into generic usage, “[t]The consumers didn’t take the brand away from the company, the company surrendered the brand to the competition.” A trademark owner cannot prevent consumers from using their trademarks generically, and generic usage by consumers is not enough to weaken the mark. That can happen only when competitors use the mark in its generic sense, and we won’t see ads stating “use Yahoo to google your website.”

Relax. consumers. We can rollerblade, sneeze and ask for a kleenex, Tivo our favorite shows and watch them from our barcaloungers, and bandaid our finger when we hit it with a hammer. Just don’t say “I’ll have a burger, fries, and a coke” if the diner only serves Pepsi.

Gord Hotchkiss, Thou Shalt Not Google (Unless It’s On Google), SearchInsider 02-Nov-06

7 thoughts on “Google Goes Generic?”

  1. I think this article is very interesting. I have noticed that is has become more and more common for people to just say “google it” instead of “search for it”, to me however , whenever someone says google it i automaticaly think “search for it on google” not yahoo or aol. Therefore , if i was google i wouldnt be too worried, since most of the time the person hearing “google it ” will probably end up using google.

  2. I’d be interested to find out if Xerox took similar actions when it became commonplace to use the verb “to xerox” instead of “to photocopy.”

    Best use of “to google?”:

    I was listening to the radio on the way to work this summer and the female co-host asked why people wouldn’t look her in the eye when they were talking with her. The male co-host hedged, saying that some people just had a condition or aversion to maintaining eye-contact during a conversation. She refused to believe him, and to prove it, he said he’d have to “google it up” later. She responded, “Google my eyes.”

  3. I would have to agree with the first post, I would think that google would enjoy the free advertising through its name being used as a verb…its spreads the word about the company and how good and popular the website has become.

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