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Google Takes Issue With 'google'

By Erika Morphy
Aug 17, 2006 3:35 PM PT

Google, apparently fearful that its brand and trademark are in danger of being eroded, has been sending letters to media organizations informing them that they are using its name incorrectly. In short, it wants to stop the use of "google" as a generic word that refers to surfing the Web.

Google Takes Issue With 'google'

"Google takes active steps to protect our brand," said Rose Hagan, Google's senior trademark counsel, "such as educating the media and the public about the proper use of our trademarks, maintaining our portfolio of trademark registrations around the world, policing use of our trademarks by third parties, ensuring that our partners and the public follow our branding guidelines, and, if needed, engaging in arbitration or litigation to enforce our trademark rights."

Not So Cool

As word leaked of its latest round of letters -- Google apparently has been sending them for years -- the blogosphere reacted with its usual swift sarcasm, criticizing Google for being uptight, not having a sense of humor, and otherwise acting like a corporate entity instead of emulating its own "do no evil" cool company image. Ingratitude, as well, appears to be a common theme in many postings; after all, "to google" never would have made it into common usage if it weren't for Google's overwhelming popularity.

In its defense, there are legitimate reasons why Google would want to control how its name is being used. The company earlier expressed concern in written communications that its brand name could go the way of "kleenex" or "xerox," for instance -- once-trademarked product brand names that eventually became generic words for tissue paper and photocopying. Google's rights to its trademarked name could erode under these circumstances.

Google may already be too late to stem the tide, though. This summer, the latest edition of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary gave its blessing to using "google" as a transitive verb, with the lower case "g." So, while "I googled him" may be legally suspect -- at least in Google's eyes -- it is now officially grammatically correct.

Enlisting Help

Google might have saved itself a lot of grief if it had approached bloggers and visitors to its site to win them over to its cause before it launched this latest round of missives, said Petri R.J. Darby, president of darbyDarnit Public Relations.

"Google has defined itself, and so far operated, as a cool and unconventional organization," Darby told TechNewsWorld. "But this is a day and age of rising skepticism of companies by consumers, analysts, investors and media -- including bloggers -- and those groups are ready to pounce anytime Google does something that seems to violate its brand promise. Filing lawsuits and issuing cease and desist letters are perceived as what traditional companies, not Google, would do."

That said, he added, it is doubtful word of these letters will lead to any loss of traffic to Google. "If anything, it could help their stock price as investors see that the company is focused equally on its corporate reputation and legal trademarks."

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