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We still have to Google with a capital ‘G’

Google logo black background

We still have to Google with a capital ‘G’

In news that may give Google mixed feelings, it seems the company is not quite so synonymous with internet searches as to lose its trademark on the verb ‘to Google’.

About two thirds of internet searches are conducted using Google, but this isn’t enough for the company’s name to become a generic term rather than a trademarked one, according to a U.S. court decision filed this week.

Google’s rights to own its name were challenged by a David Elliott, who had purchased hundreds of domains containing the word ‘google’. He argued that the word ‘google’ is used so frequently to refer to the act of using a search engine, it had ceased to refer to Google in particular and should be seen as an ordinary word rather than a trademark.

However, the San Francisco panel of judges disagreed with Elliott’s assertions, pointing out that verb use cannot be assumed to be generic use, and that ‘genericide’ cases like this can only be valid if they relate to a specific product or service.

The panel mulled over all kinds of usage of the term ‘Google’, ranging from its definition in the Collins English Dictionary, to its appearance in rapper T-Pain’s song ‘Bottlez’ (which contains expletives, just to forewarn you). However, the conclusion was that Google kept its trademark, and we’ll all have to keep on ‘Googling’ rather than ‘googling’.

Google would certainly not have been the first brand name to become accepted as a generic term. ‘Aspirin’ was originally a brand name created by chemists at German company Bayer, but is now an accepted name for acetylsalicylic acid. Vacuuming is commonly referred to as ‘hoovering’ whether we’re using a Hoover brand cleaner or not, and a speaker system is generically called a ‘tannoy’ – a point once made by Alan Partridge while dressed in a homemade zombie outfit cobbled together from travel tavern accessories.

A regular speaker at SAScon events is James Murray of Microsoft, who promotes Bing by arguing that just because we all refer to searching as ‘Googling’, it doesn’t mean Google is the best. Similar arguments might be made by the likes of Dyson or Vax about the term ‘hoovering’, especially since both sell more vacuum cleaners in the UK than Hoover.

Future years will dictate how prevalent use of the verb ‘to Google’ becomes, but it certainly seems unlikely to be replaced by ‘to Bing’ or ‘to Yahoo!’ any time soon.

John Murray

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