Google Goes Generic?*

Legal Blog Watch has a brief post about the threat of the Google trademark passing into common usage, or going generic. There’s nothing Google can do about us regular folks using Google as a verb–“I Googled that guy and he turned out to be a creep”–or as a substitute for the noun “search.” Those are a function of extreme brand penetration. What somewhat more troublesome for Google is generic usage by commercial actors such as the media. The New York Times ran a story this week about how more people are “Googling themselves.” (A pointless pastime with a name like David Randall–there may only be one of me but there are too many of us.) For at least the past couple of years Google has reminded users not to engage in this type of usage, and a well-placed cease and desist letter to The Times or other media outlet will help curb the practice. It may be counterintuitive given the ubiquity of Internet publication, but I think there is less danger of a mark passing into generic usage now than in times past. Companies are more keenly aware of the value of their brands, devote more resources to protecting them, and because of the Internet can track troublesome or infringing uses more readily and come down on malefactors like grim death. It’s the same problem brands like Xerox -one photocopies a document, one does not Xerox it–and Kleenex–as you were about to sneeze when was the last time you shouted “pass me a facial tissue!”–have faced. The key is to manage common usage so it never gets to the point where competitors use the erstwhile brand to describe their own products.

*A lifetime subscription to anyone who identifies the movie title echoed by this tagline.

6 Replies to “Google Goes Generic?*”

  1. Scot

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  2. Lana Sharuk

    When people use names and turn them into verbs such as "googling" or other nouns doesn't that just mean their products are popular and almost advertises them? For instance, people who say "I'm going to google that guy to see if he's a creep" they use google as their search engine. The more often people say google or googling the more others will think to use it when they have to search for something. I understand that google worked to get the trademark but I don't really see the negative part of brand penetration.

    • drandall Post author

      You are right that generic usage results from effective brand penetration. Remember, though, the purpose of a trademark is to identify the source of goods or services. What if I am googling whether somebody is a creep by using Bing or Yahoo!, and it never occurs to me that the source of googling is the Google search engine? At some point consumers stopped associating shredded wheat with its manufacturer and applied it to any similar breakfast cereal, and the owner of the shredded wheat mark failed to adequately protect its rights in the mark. It ceased to be a trademark and became a noun that any cereal maker could use for its product.

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