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To Google Or Not To Google? It's A Legal Question
can't use google as a verb
walkman




msg:3045611
 2:22 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

Search engine giant Google, known for its mantra "don't be evil", has fired off a series of legal letters to media organisations, warning them against using its name as a verb.

In June, Google won a place in the Oxford English Dictionary, while "to google", with a lower case "g", was included last month in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, America's leading reference book.

To Google Or Not To Google? It's A Legal Question [news.independent.co.uk]

biased article. I don't see this as Google being humorless or uptight; they're just doing what it's needed to protect their trademark.

[edited by: engine at 3:19 pm (utc) on Aug. 14, 2006]
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ecommerceprofit




msg:3045714
 3:27 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

Exactly - they have no choice - they must protect their trademark

rstein68




msg:3045722
 3:35 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

Can Google request that the entries be pulled from the dictionaries? Or is Google okay with that part?

ScottM




msg:3045724
 3:36 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

I was really wondering when they were going to address this. I really thought they should have done this a long time ago.

Good for them. Better late than never.

LifeinAsia




msg:3045733
 3:42 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

This is little different from what Xerox continues to do to protect its trademark.

sem4u




msg:3045744
 3:48 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

Does anyone vacuum? Not many people do...they prefer to hoover. Hoover is just a brand name, yet when a floor needs cleaning most people will use a 'hoover' even though the machine may be made by another company.

Doesn't Google want to be known as search? It all seems a bit petty to me.

LifeinAsia




msg:3045765
 3:54 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

I vacuum (okay, I'll admit it- my wife does more than me, but that's beside the point). I've heard from a few other sources that people use "hoover" as a verb, yet I have never actually heard someone use it that way. My impression is that it may just be a U.K.ism?

sem4u




msg:3045779
 4:00 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

It is used a lot in the UK, not sure about the US though...

I am also sure that a lot of Americans go and do some 'xeroxing', but in the UK we always go and do some photocopying.

This link about 'xeroxing' is quite interesting...

[theinquirer.net...]

Hach3




msg:3045787
 4:07 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

I agree that this should have been addressed a while ago. They have received a lot of good press on the subject and now that it has died off, they start to address the issue.

It is better late than never, but I think they will have a tough time protecting it. Look at Bandaid and Scotch tape.

Webwork




msg:3045788
 4:09 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

Protecting a brand name is sometimes not the same as elevating a brand name. Next up, we see the gag in the "gag" order:

"Due to public concern about the recent "google it" gag order (flash image of letter) we at Ask.com wish to assure the public you - the public - will always have permission to ask."

"We at Ask.com are concerned. Google has recently engaged in a mass mailing of cease and desist letters, directing the recipient to "google it" no more. (Flash image of letter). We agree. Don't google it. Ask . . and rest assured you will always have the right to Ask.com."

[edited by: Webwork at 4:12 pm (utc) on Aug. 14, 2006]

jtara




msg:3045791
 4:12 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

they have no choice - they must protect their trademark

Exactly. They HAVE no choice.

That is, this is beyond their control - they are fighting a losing battle.

They have no legal basis. All they can do is ASK the media not to use the word in that manner.

The only legal basis they have is if somebody else (say, Yahoo) uses the term to promote a similar service.

In any case, it can't be stopped by trying to censor the press. "To google" is a meme. I don't think it comes from the press but has sprung simultaneously from the mouths of thousands. (While I hate that term "meme", I think it truly applies to the verbization of Google...)

It is better late than never, but I think they will have a tough time protecting it. Look at Bandaid and Scotch tape.

And what horrible things have happened to Johnson & Johnson and 3M due to their trademarks creeping into the language? I certainly think it's been a net BENEFIT for both of these companies. If not for the generic use of "bandaid" and "scotch tape" in the language, do you think they would have maintained the top position that they enjoy today?

The only thing this is going to bring Google is ridicule. News at 11. Er, 11:30. Wanna bet this is the first topic for both Leno and Letterman tonight?

Humorless, uptight, and, now, stupid. (Evil is a given.)

IMO, the verb will survive the company.

Demaestro




msg:3045800
 4:18 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

Sad to see so many people championing Google for this.

All this says to me is that there are people at Google with no real job description so they have came up with this as something to do.

When people use the term "google" as a verb all it means is that Google has become the prevailing term for searching. This is a good thing for Google.

You ever ask for a Kleenex only to get some other brand of tissue? You ever ask for a band-aid when all you want is an adhesive strip with a sterial cooton center?

How about a band-aid solution? How many cease and desist letter you think johnson and johnson send out each year over this phrase? My guess..... ZERO.

This is silly and people using it as a verb does not threaten Google's trademarks.

I can't believe someone at Google is getting paid to champion this cause. Maybe they should get this guy looking up click fraud instead of writing useless motions and legal letters.

Doesn't anyone regonize the line we are crossing?

[edited by: Demaestro at 4:24 pm (utc) on Aug. 14, 2006]

BillyS




msg:3045807
 4:27 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

>>You ever ask for a Kleenex only to get some other brand of tissue? You ever ask for a band-aid when all you want is an adhesive strip with a sterial cooton center?

Or a Q-Tip when we want a cotton swab.

While I do agree that Google does need to protect themselves, they might want to look internally too.

Don't employees call themselves Googlers?

walkman




msg:3045832
 4:45 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

>> That is, this is beyond their control - they are fighting a losing battle. They have no legal basis. All they can do is ASK the media not to use the word in that manner.

I am not a lawyer, and definitely no trademark lawyer, but from reading I think that they have to at least complain about it. If they do not, and 5 years from now I start my Google-schmoogle.com site, when Google sues, in my defense I can use the fact that Google did nothing as millions of other people and companies made Google a common word, just like bread or water.

Essentially, if google does not protect their trademark, they will lose it. The trademark is not something you get once, and forget about it.

As far as the "championing google" comment: I think it's crazy that people are divided in "pro" or "anti" groups; to do so one must believe that Google, MSFT, Intel or whoever, either does no right or no wrong.

[edited by: walkman at 4:56 pm (utc) on Aug. 14, 2006]

europeforvisitors




msg:3045838
 4:52 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

Sad to see so many people championing Google for this.

It has nothing to do with "championing Google." Some members just happen to understand that, to protect the "Google" trademark, Google must make good-faith efforts to discourage "genericide."

The lawyers are just doing what they have to do. It's that simple.

LifeinAsia




msg:3045847
 5:01 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

I seem to remember a few years back when Yahoo was trying to promote itself as a verb- does anyone else remember the "Do you Yahoo?" tags in Yahoo mail? I'm surprised their legal department allowed that.

Chico_Loco




msg:3045848
 5:02 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

On the one hand, Google probably do love being verbalized like this, because it propagates their brand and their search service.

However, on the other hand, considering that they have been dismally unsuccessful in other operations (video, book search, orkut, co-op, froogle), I would tend to think that they would want to prevent themselves from being further "typecast" as a search engine only!

That may have been one of the reasons for doing this.

buckworks




msg:3045855
 5:07 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

The lawyers are just doing what they have to do.

So what were they doing for the last three or four years while the usage became common? Sleeping?

Demaestro




msg:3045872
 5:19 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

The lawyers are just doing what they have to do. It's that simple.

I disagree 100%.... Why do they have to do this? Using Google's name as a verb does NOTHING to harm or put their trademark in jeopordy... nothing.

The fact that a bunch of really over paid people got together and justified this action just says to me that they have people outsmarting themselves over at G. If they have worked it out in their minds that this course of action is required, then they really need to go give their heads a shake, come out of their little closed office and enter the real world. The letters were not needed nor are they legally binding, nor can Google do anything if news people ignore their pleas to cease using the term.

Have Johnson and Joshnson lawyers have been missing the boat all this time?

How many people have tried to steal the Band-Aid name over the term.... Band-Aid solution? NONE!

How many tradmarks has Xerox lost over the terms like "I Xeroxed it" or "Can you Xerox me a copy of that"....Again the answer is Zero. The only people the Xerox term hurts is..... Cannon.... because even if the machine in someone's office is a Cannon the term Zerox probably still gets used.

It doesn't upset you that in this rediculously letigious society that we are in right now that something this trival and this stupid can become an issue? That someone can get paid 100s of $$ an hour to send out these letters that do nothing. These lawyers are just trying justify their existance at Google by coming up with something to do.

Google pays these guys money and this is what they do with their time? .... Sad, really really sad. There are tons of examples given about other brand name products being used in the main stream language. Not 1 of them resulting in a case where the tradmarked name was put into jeopordy, not one.... It is silly waste of time and money.

All this action by them says to me is they have too much time on their hands. Time to cut the legal department fat IMO.

Making Google a main stream term is something they want to happen. This type of word of mouth is an advertisers dream. Free PR.... too bad they have to go and make themselves look the fool instead of basking in the free PR glory.

[edited by: Demaestro at 5:20 pm (utc) on Aug. 14, 2006]

Pico_Train




msg:3045885
 5:26 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

Good, we don't need another verb and they don't need anymore trademark dilution.

Besides, their TM attorneys need something to do and this is it.

I don't "google" anything, I search on Google for it, get it right.

econman




msg:3045894
 5:32 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

Hard to believe they just recently noticed this little "problem."

Perhaps they were trying to get the best of both worlds?

Wait as long as possible in order to get the full benefit of having people mentally equate google with search, but then take the necessary legal steps before their tradmark rights are legally endangered?

Given the long history with q-tips, xeorox, band-aids, etc. I would think that Google's lawyers and executives would know where the legal boundaries lie and thus how long they could wait before proactively taking steps to protect their trademark.

europeforvisitors




msg:3045914
 5:42 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

Have Johnson and Joshnson lawyers have been missing the boat all this time?

How many people have tried to steal the Band-Aid name over the term.... Band-Aid solution? NONE!

How many tradmarks has Xerox lost over the terms like "I Xeroxed it"

A 'Trademark Protection' article [lectlaw.com] at the 'Lectric Law Library lists some of the trademarks that have been victims of "genericide" over the years--among them, Aspirin, Nylon, Cellophane, and Zipper. That's why companies like Xerox and Johnson & Johnson zealously protect their trademarks, just as Google does. Over the years, I've seen any number of ads in magazines like EDITOR & PUBLISHER, the COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW, and WRITERS DIGEST by companies that have asked writers not to misuse their trademarks.

As for why Google's lawyers weren't quicker off the mark, that's probably due to the fact that Google is a fairly new company without a lot of experience in matters like trademark protection. It probably didn't have a trademark attorney on staff or a trademark-law firm on retainer until recently. But that's a side issue to what we're discussing; it has no bearing on the fact that Google needs to make a good-faith effort to prevent its trademark from being genericized. You can pooh-pooh trademark law if you wish, but Google doesn't have that luxury.

Tomcat




msg:3045918
 5:44 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

I agree with the section they simply have to do so to avoid unpaid use from other companies, although it'll get hard for them to prevent from using it in not-search-engine related topics.

digitalghost




msg:3045932
 5:52 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

>>that's probably due to the fact that Google is a fairly new company without a lot of experience in matters like trademark protection.

Google, Froogle and Gmail, all trademark issues Google has had to deal with. Fairly new maybe. Inexperienced, hardly.

SEOPTI




msg:3045989
 6:31 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

They need to fix their search first.

Harry




msg:3045992
 6:34 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

I'm no lawyer - disclaimer blah blah blah - but I have gone through several trademark processes and I know that much about the law.

It's not a question of Google being evil - and by the way the motto is "do no evil" as opposed to "don't be evil." Not the same thing - if Google doesn't show that it works actively to protect its trademark, it can lose it. Whether or not the press and the public stop using Google it as a verb is beside the point.

It needs to demonstrate that it protects its trademark. I'm sure Jonson and 3M do the same thing, stopping the media from using their brand names as a generic term.

That people start to accuse Google and its staff of wrongdoing and bullying is not understanding the basic ppremise of trademark law and standard business procedures.

Google is doing what it must do and according to me, it's not news worthy.

Demaestro




msg:3045997
 6:41 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

europeforvisitors/Harry

Thanks for the clarification and EFV the link.... Looks like I have to eat a little crow.

I guess that in this rediculous age of insane laws that Googles action make some sense. I just hate to see us decend further into legal red tape hell.

Wouldn't the term making it into 2 major dictionaries do more damage then the news casters using the term? I still don't see how firing off letters that carry no legal weight to them will make any difference. I guess in the face of losing their trademark they could at least claim they made the attempt to stave off the use of the term. But when do individuals rights come in? Can Google legaly prevent people from using this term? When I am free to use descriptive terms as I see fit?

A letter to Websters and other dictionaries would make sense but to ask news vendors to not use the term when it appears in 2 dictionaries seems like firing the arrow into the wrong camp.

[edited by: Demaestro at 6:46 pm (utc) on Aug. 14, 2006]

rogerd




msg:3046000
 6:48 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

I suspect Google has put the dictionaries on notice and future versions may have the definition tweaked a bit. Relegating "google" as a verb to the "slang" category might make its continued inclusion more palatable to Google's lawyers though at this point keeping up a spirited defense is probably sufficient to keep the trademark secure. I'm sure any commercial usage would get hammered with a lot more than a polite C&D (e.g., "Want to google your blind date? Check him out at MegaMonsterSearch.com!")

oneguy




msg:3046025
 7:05 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

You ever ask for a Kleenex only to get some other brand of tissue?

GRRRR! Nothing makes me madder.

You ever ask for a band-aid when all you want is an adhesive strip with a sterial cooton center?

GRRRRRRRR! Except that. People can't see I'm bleeding, say they don't have a band-aid, and fall right into some goofy trademark discussion while I almost bleed to death.

I don't "google" anything, I search on Google for it, get it right.

I don't google anything, either. If I'm looking for something obscure, I use google to search.

They need to fix their search first.

Agreed. If I'm looking for something common, I find another search engine. I do associate google with search, but they are being less and less associated with find.

I'm confident those TM lawyers know what they are doing. Of course, they would love to walk right on top of the fence without falling on either side.

commanderW




msg:3046068
 7:56 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

Hello everyone - If Google inc wanted to protect their trademark they shouldn't have named their company after a number! It's not exactly like kleenex or xerox. because 'google' was a word 1st.
- here's something else to think about. The chinese dynasties are well known for dictating the language of their subjects. The current one created pin-yin & tried to dictate how the english speaking world should spell chinese words in english. Then they asked Google to turn over the records & logs of some chinese dissidents. - As everyone knows Google turned over those records. Now google is trying to tell everyone how to talk! Hmmmm....

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