Earlier this month, I left a few comments on blogs in the wake of the Oxford English Dictionary saying it would include Google. My warning: this was the ﬁrst step to the brand becoming generic, and we should be careful to always capitalize it in writing.
Naturally, in speech, we now commonly use the word as meaning, ‘to search for something using the Google search engine’, and that that is part of everyday life in the opening decade of this century. No one can stop that.
I traced Google’s coming of age—or loss of trade mark value—when Jennifer Lopez referred to it as a verb in Maid in Manhattan in 2002, and I imagine some intellectual property lawyers have been alert since then.
Antony Mayﬁeld has been tracing the happenings on that front, initially with a post last week that indicated lawyers have indeed sent letters to media. Quoting Search Sense:
According to a report in The Independent, though, Google has been contacting media asking them to say “ran a Google search” rather than “googling” something.
There’s been no conﬁrmation or comment from Google on the subject …
while Out-law.com takes my view of the matter, cited in a follow-up post at Antony’s Open blog.
It is dangerous ground. Already I have been saying that Google, with its entry into Red China and its censorship, is becoming more and more like another regular American ﬁrm, its differentiation weakening. We can be informed of what Google considers correct usage—but with lawyers involved, that can often build resentment. Worse than losing your trade mark value and rights is all your brand equity, when you become just another corporation that doesn’t live your brand. Get us on side, and we will help. Offend us, and we will not.
Hence, it is trying hard to sound friendly, as Out-law.com reported:
Google no doubt hoped that a light-hearted example would avoid the company sounding oppressive. It has to send letters like this; but its lawyers know that it has only limited powers to dictate how the brand is used. So the letters are seeking support, not threatening litigation.
The risk for Google is that it ceases to become a brand altogether. If it becomes generic, the brand can be struck from the register of trade marks, leaving the owner without rights. This has happened before: escalator, aspirin, pogo, gramophone and linoleum were once registered trade marks that became victims of genericide.
The letter is supposedly the same as the one that the company has used since 2003, which was covered by the BBC, according to the Press Gazette (also referred by Antony Mayﬁeld).
In any case, a spot of social responsibility would get more people on Google’s side. What has it done to balance accusations of kowtowing to Beijing? Would Google care to help fund some programmes advocating information freedom? Live your brand and all that stuff about doing no evil, and we will be more than happy to work with you.
Del.icio.us tags: Google trade mark trade marks intellectual property brand social responsibility brand equity CSR corporate social responsibility branding Posted by Jack Yan, 01:17
I think google will lose this one.
1. "Googling" has become widely used in the blogosphere and beyond, its not a matter of controling a few newspapers' usage and righting mass perception of the term. In other words, its too late.
2. I don't think any degree of social responsiblity or public good will equate to the adoption of the "correct" use of a term, even in the media. Most would consider this an attempt at the corporatization of the development of language and therefore evil. As a slanguage afficiando- doubly so, freal.
What you call "genericide" I call the advancement of the english language, and the greater good (albeit a small contribution). Words like "googled" catch on for a reason, and the generification may be the price one pays for being the top dog online.
The more of these letters they send out the dumber they look. Period.
I know companies can never stop the development of the vernacular and I agree it’s too late—at least ﬁve years too late.
Interesting on your second point, Dan—I prefer to think of this as a moot point for now, because the companies whose products have been coopted into the English language have been faceless corporations. I really feel that while there will always be some “slanguage” tendencies going on, people would be more willing to respect (maybe cooperate is too strong a term) trade marks that are from decent companies, and not the faceless giants.
Genericide wasn’t my term; and I heartily agree with your closing sentence. No one ever managed to make a commandment—save God Himself—and controlled our language through lawyers.
I very much agree with "respect" over "cooperation". Although I think that the degree of respect effects how one might describe the brand rather than how one appropriates terms inspired by them.
I think "googled" isn't a term to replace "internet search". To me it implies a more casual, relaxed, attitude to "doing a Google search", in most cases. And from a branding perspective is probably associated with better feelings. The example floating around-
"Appropriate: I ran a Google search to check out that guy from the party. Inappropriate: I googled that hottie."
- illustrates this perfectly.
Maybe Google should do an about face and promote the use of google as a verb? If they did it right the term "googled" could become as strongly associated to the company as the word "Google" itself, and people would still go googling for hotties, as opposed to googling for less tyrannical search engines. I'd actually really like to hear your thoughts on that Jack?!
Excellent points, Dan. Like you, I use ‘to Google’ for searches using the Google search engine—I would never use it to refer to a search on Yahoo!, Gigablast or MSN. But I wonder if, once upon a time, people used ‘to Hoover’ for just a Hoover vacuum cleaner before the term became generic; even Transit has become a generic name for a panel van in the UK. While Google is dominant, I think they should let this go—not just because they look like twats threatening media, but because it is a useful promotional strategy just as you say. However, if one day it loses its dominance—say Baidu expands outside Red China and becomes the number one search engine in the world—this encouragement could backﬁre.Post a Comment
Don’t get me wrong: I love using Google as a verb. It is way too natural now, and it was natural even back in 2002.
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