Search engine giant Google, known for its mantra “don’t be evil”, has fired off a series of legal letters to media organisations, warning them against using its name as a verb.
Of course they have to protect their trademark, but it seems to me that heavy-handed letters from lawyers in this case is a bit like King Canute trying to stop the tide. Apple is suffering from similar legal excess over the iPod name.
Who doesn’t say “I googled your brand” (or whatever subject)? Note the lower-case spelling. I’d say that the name has already passed into generic usage, much as brand names like Hoover (in the UK) and Xerox (in the US) have done.
Now think about languages other than English to get a sense of the scale of how a brand name will slip into generic usage if that brand name really is popular.
The Dutch language, for instance. Google’s lawyers are wielding a heavy hand with letters to media organizations in The Netherlands over the definition of the new Dutch verb ‘googelen’:
[…] Google’s letter includes helpful examples of appropriate and inappropriate use of the company’s trademark. For example: “I used Google to check out that guy I met at the party” is fine, but “I googled that hottie” is not. It is also acceptable to say: “he ego-surfs on Google to see if he’s listed in the results” but not “he googles himself.”
[…] ‘Googelen’ was first detected in the Dutch language in 2003. The latest edition of the ‘Dikke van Dale’ dictionary describes it as looking for information on the internet. Editor-in-Chief Ton den Boon said on Tuesday that he had not received the letter from Google.
“It is a well-known phenomenon that companies try to protect their brands in this way,” he said laconically. But van Dale does not intend to alter its definition. “We describe contemporary Dutch. You, I, and everyone uses googelen in this sense,” Den Boom said.
Google might be able to lean on the mainstream media, but every individual? And what about the benefits that Google may accrue from so many people thinking ‘google’ when they want to search the net – even if they use a different search engine?
Excuse me while I google for more about this conundrum…