Has “Google” Become Generic? (Google III)
My fellow Business of Media instructor, Eric Sinrod of Duane Morris, has a good article today about a lawsuit an Arizona entrepreneur has brought against Google, claiming that the trademark “Google” has become generic.
One of the perils of a popular trademark is that when it becomes the term for the product or service itself, anyone can start using it. “Aspirin,” “kerosene,” “elevator,” and “bikini” all became generic terms for the product, allowing anyone to use them, instead of the trademark belonging to the owner.
While “Google” has become a verb, I don’t think that it has become generic for search services on the Internet. Yahoo!, Microsoft’s Bing, and Ask.com certainly don’t offer to google for you, and these companies would probably oppose someone who tried to say they did.
Still, these generic proceedings illustrate the collision between democracy in action and intellectual property law. No one person or entity chooses to make a mark generic — it is a very communal, egalitarian process. “The people” decide that aspirin is a better word than synthetic acetylsalicylic acid; the judicial system and the trademark owner have to go along.
I highly doubt that Mr. Elliott will succeed in getting “Google” declared as a generic mark, but I am confident that Goggle’s legal department has been losing sleep over this issue for years.