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Google This!:

A survey from the market research firm of Millward Brown puts Google™ at the top of all global brands in terms of consumer recognition. I have no idea whether the survey is or isn't accurate, though it strikes me as a plausible result.
The interesting thing, though, is this. As those of you who know trademark law know well, a term cannot be a trademark if it has become a "generic" descriptor for goods or services. Lots of previously-trademarked names -- aspirin, cellophane, escalator -- began life as brand names, but over time became "genericized" and lost their trademark protection.
"Google," of course, is used generically all the time -- as in "google this, will you?" or "I googled her this morning and found out that . . ." The most well-recognized brand name in the world is conservatively worth billions of dollars; yet I am not aware of Google, Inc. doing anything to try to stem the genericization of their name. (Xerox, by contrast, with a much less valuable brand name than Google's, spends scads of money taking out advertisements pleading with consumers not to use their name as a generic description of photocopiers or photocopying services). That strikes me as odd, I must say -- perhaps they've decided that there's nothing they can do about that usage? Or that they get plenty of pay-back from having a name that consumers use generically?

Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Is this really comparable to the case of Xerox, Kleenex, &c.? I'd hazard a guess that most of the people who talk about "googling" stuff are actually using Google to do it. Certainly I haven't seen anyone yet speak of "googling" a name on, e.g., Yahoo. Or do people actually do that?
4.22.2008 5:33pm
Observer:
Isn't the issue with Google not that the word is being used as a generic name for all search engines, but just that people are using it as a verb instead of a noun (where the verb means using that specific search engine)? This is a separate issue from aspirin, Kleenex, etc., and I am not sure what would be a precedent for this.
4.22.2008 5:38pm
Meh (mail):
I agree with Michelle: I think most people are aware that Google is a brand, not a generic term for a search engine, and that when they say "google this" (or "Google this"), they usually mean the Google search engine. That's just my sense. As the Restatement says, "a consumer may state that he drives a FORD, drinks COCA-COLA, or washes laundry with TIDE. Use of a designation to denominate only the product of a specific manufacturer, whether known or anonymous, is not generic use. A designation is used generically only if it is used to denominate a type of good or service irrespective of source."
4.22.2008 5:42pm
HLSbertarian (mail):
As long as, even in its verb usage, the word continues to refer only to the Google search engine, the mark is safe. The concern, I suppose, is that making it into a verb is a major first step toward genericide.
4.22.2008 5:42pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):

As long as they own the url www.google.com, you would think they'd be happy with the way the term is spreading into the vernacular.
4.22.2008 5:46pm
guest2847421:
Apparently, Google HAS been making some efforts akin to the "Xerox is not a verb" campaign:
LINK

Scroll down to "FWSEing"
4.22.2008 5:46pm
HLSbertarian (mail):
Apparently, Google HAS been making some efforts akin to the "Xerox is not a verb" campaign: LINK

Scroll down to "FWSEing"
4.22.2008 5:47pm
swg:
I use "google" all the time to mean "search" generally.

For what it's worth...my IP professor mentioned in class that Google has been taking measures to prevent "google" from becoming generic. But he didn't identify anything specific. Maybe I'll ask him about that.
4.22.2008 5:48pm
MXE (mail):
It's hard to say whether Google will end up being fully genericized. Of course, the fact that people almost always use it to refer to searches on Google, Inc.'s search engine doesn't mean it won't be genericized. It just means it hasn't yet.

That is to say, it seems to me that for a brand name to become genericized, it must go through a phase when it becomes synonymous with the general term (Google = search online, Xerox = photocopy, Kleenex = tissue) precisely because the brand is so dominant that the terms might as well be synonyms. The catch is that when the company in question loses its super-dominant status, the term may stick, and generic status has been achieved.

To this day, people probably use the term "kleenex" most often to refer to Kleenex brand tissues. But they also use it to refer to other brands. The question is whether the term "google" will get to that point. Only time will tell!
4.22.2008 5:49pm
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):

As the Restatement says, "a consumer may state that he drives a FORD, drinks COCA-COLA, or washes laundry with TIDE.


In large parts of the US, "coke" is a generic term for sodas.


I think most people are aware that Google is a brand, not a generic term for a search engine, and that when they say "google this" (or "Google this"), they usually mean the Google search engine.


If I ask someone to google something, I want them to find the information on the Internet, and I really don't care how. Same as if I ask someone to xerox something, I don't care if they actually use a Xerox copier.
4.22.2008 5:55pm
Nicolai (mail):
You can easily make xerographic copies using non-Xerox equipment and services - in fact it's not too hard to start a business making them, if you want, and have some to sell in a few months.
You can't easily perform a web search with other than Google; you only have a few choices, unlike the many people making copying machines, and by now it's rather hard to set up in direct competition to Google too.
So googling will most likely be done with Google while xeroxing may never have anything to do with Xerox.
Xerox have more to lose.
4.22.2008 5:56pm
Google user:
I don't know about all of you, but when I tell someone to Google something, first of all, I capitalize my verb, and, secondly, I mean "search using Google" and not just generically "search". If I meant "search", I would say "search" (or perhaps "Yahoo!"). Search engines are not created equal.
4.22.2008 5:58pm
Meh (mail):
Sean, I think most people are aware that Google is a brand. It's also worth noting that even though you say that you use the term generically, you still seem to be aware that it's a mark.
4.22.2008 6:06pm
Daniel San:
There is a major (at least short term) to Google in having the name become a verb. The verb is part of the reason for that great name-recognition. For a web-based company, the more distant future is murky. The better strategy may be to focus of fairly short-term advantage and put limited efforts into long-term concerns.

Anecdotal evidence concerning the meaning of "Google" as a verb. Yesterday I asked my secretary to Google something (meaning "search for this term on Google search engine). She searched Yahoo and didn't find the result I wanted.
4.22.2008 6:12pm
Google user:
Daniel San: You need to let your secretary go. She clearly doesn't know how to follow directions.
4.22.2008 6:16pm
Virginian:

You can't easily perform a web search with other than Google


You are kidding, right? I perform web searches all day long, and almost never use Google.
4.22.2008 6:34pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
I always thought it was a bad business decision by Xerox to fight that hard. Yes, I am now careful to ask my student-worker to "copy this" instead of "Xerox this"... on our Ricoh copiers. Why wouldn't you WANT your name to be synonymous with the entire product line? "Xerox: The Original and Still the Best" "Always Xerox with Xerox!" "Why trust anyone else to Xerox it for you?"

Similarly with Google, what harm do they suffer if the term legally becomes "generic"? The name IS the business. Even if they legally could, Yahoo would never benefit from an ad calling for internet users to "google what you want with Yahoo!" It's a very different situation from, say, the Yellow Pages, where a multitude of competitors all want to be considered the "real" yellow pages. There, a trademark fight might have some meaning. But with Google? I just don't see it. I think their business interests are best served by having it become a generic term for "search on the internet."
4.22.2008 6:43pm
Observer:
Virginian: No one is saying that it is *impossible* to run a web search without Google. The point is just that it is very, very hard and time-consuming to do.
4.22.2008 6:52pm
Mike& (mail):
First, David Post is right: This is a huge issue. If you don't think it is, you just don't know the area of law. Period.

Second, Google has taken considerable efforts to avoid its "genericizing." The Los Angeles Daily Journal did an article on this as early as 2002.
4.22.2008 7:09pm
Vernunft (mail) (www):
Xerox has a history of awful business decisions. If they bothered to manufacture and market a good product and provide good service, maybe they'd have less time to worry about their trademark becoming generic. Which is worse, Xerox: having the mark associated with your terrible company, or associated with copiers generally? It's a conundrum.
4.22.2008 7:16pm
KeithK (mail):

First, David Post is right: This is a huge issue. If you don't think it is, you just don't know the area of law. Period.


I am aware that this is a huge issue. I just can't for the life of me understand why that should be so. I'm with PatHMV.
4.22.2008 7:16pm
guest (mail):
Does the use as a proprietary eponym enhance or detract from the value of the commodity?
4.22.2008 7:17pm
tired of blogs:
It seems extraordinarily unlikely that Google is the world's best known brand. Billions of people have no access to the internet. Most of them have access to Coke, etc.
4.22.2008 7:41pm
Warmongering Lunatic:
Mr. Post, if you had done a quick Google of the keywords Google and genericization, this "oddity" would have been resolved; Google does indeed actively fight genericization of its trademark.
4.22.2008 7:45pm
Blue (mail):
I'm curious as to what cause of action Google has against those who google? Is it limited to commercial googlers or could they Google bloggers (though perhaps not on Blogger) and other non-commerical folks to determine closet googlers?
4.22.2008 7:55pm
Anon Y. Mous:

No one is saying that it is *impossible* to run a web search without Google. The point is just that it is very, very hard and time-consuming to do.

ask
lycos
microsoft
yahoo

How hard is that?
4.22.2008 8:25pm
Eluchil:
The problem with PatHMV argument is that it ignores the legal effect of genericization which is that the company no longer has a case if others use the mark to label their products. If Xerox is genericized than anyone can label their copier a xerox machine and customers will have to make a greater effort to identify one made by the original Xerox company .
4.22.2008 8:25pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Eluchil... that certainly makes sense in the context of a physical product. But I still don't see that it makes much sense for Google, so long as they own the domain name. The primary downside might be that others could register other domain names with the word "google" in them.
4.22.2008 9:03pm
Freddy Hill:
When starting out, entrepeneurs dream with their companies' names becoming generic. If somebody had told Page and Brin in 1996 that they would be worrying about genericization of their brand name in ten years time they would have been very happy indeed.

Along those lines, I think that Ask Jeeves made a bad mistake when they changed their name to Ask (and, I'm sure, paid a pretty penny for the domain). Some people upset about the prospects that Google was taking over the known universe were saying at the time, "will you jeeves this for me?" as a form of protest. They killed it overnight because saying "Ask this for me" is too generic to make any sense at all.
4.22.2008 9:08pm
Observer:
Anon Y. Mous: Just admit it, you had to Google "search engines" to come up with these links.
4.22.2008 9:57pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
Google's market share is only 60% or so. Lots of people, including me, use other search engine. When I use the term "google" as a verb, I just mean to search with your favorite search engine.
4.22.2008 10:47pm
Anon Y. Mous:

Anon Y. Mous: Just admit it, you had to Google "search engines" to come up with these links.


If you use IE7, go up to the "Live Search" box, click the drop down arrow, and select "Find More Providers". You will find all that I listed and more. Even without that, it's not like nobody ever heard of Yahoo or Microsoft. I'll admit that I use Google frequently, but if I was behind a firewall that blocked Google, I wouldn't have any problem figuring out an alternative.
4.23.2008 12:19am
Syd Henderson (mail):
I tend to use Altavista as a primary search engine and Google as a secondary engine. However, if I google something, I'm using Google, otherwise I'm searching. On the other hand, I was one of those who used to use the word Xerox regardless of which copier I used.
4.23.2008 1:44am
Anon Y. Mous:
It looks like Altavista is just a front-end to Yahoo these days. They used to be my primary back before Google came along.
4.23.2008 2:44am
markm (mail):
The classic example of genericization is "Zipper". Yes, that was a trademark until it was voided by court decision, leaving the original trademark owners with nothing to distinguish their product from all the competitors but phrases like "genuine Zipper zippers". AFAIK Bayer's signature product had always been sold as "Bayer Aspirin", so they didn't lose all name recognition to genericization - although competitors would have found it much harder to sell "acetalsalycic acid" than to sell "aspirin". OTOH, Coke's brand might be in serious trouble when you say, "Get me a coke", and the response is, "Pepsi or Mountain Dew?"

But Google has and will keep one advantage the others lacked: google.com. You aren't going to get to a competitor by typing "google" into the address bar.
4.23.2008 8:41am
Stephen Duncan Jr (www):
Google has tried to cut down on the use of Google as a generic term: Do you "Google?"

It made a minor splash at the time, with many tech blog posts shortly thereafter making conscious references to avoiding the use of Google as a verb, lest they get in trouble.
4.23.2008 10:39am
WHOI Jacket:
It's all "COKE", darn yankees!
4.23.2008 12:57pm
anonthu:
Anon Y. Mous: Just admit it, you had to Google "search engines" to come up with these links.

But, did he google "search engines" or Google "search engines"?
4.23.2008 2:09pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Just dogpile it.

I miss the days when Yahoo would give me the choice of five search engines to use, and each would give me different hits. Now I still use Yahoo because I hate looking at a white screen.

WHOI: in the Appalachians it's dope.
4.23.2008 5:32pm
meh:
Mike&: "This is a huge issue. If you don't think it is, you just don't know the area of law. Period."


Who said genericism isn't a big issue?
4.23.2008 8:07pm