For some companies like aspirin, escalator, and thermos, their brands were so successful courts ruled the name had become a generic term, meaning trademarks were no longer valid. But as generic as “Google” is, a US court recently ruled a trademark still stands.
Google now joins a host of brands like Q-Tip, Xerox, and Dumpster who have become umbrella terms to cover all items in a certain category, but have still managed to hold on to their trademarks.
The legal battle hinges on one question: what happens when a trademark becomes a verb? There’s no denying that the vast majority of people today use the term “to google” to mean “search the internet” (regardless of search engine). But despite how commonplace that use is, the 9th Circuit Court ruled that since Google is a search engine and a company name, the trademark would hold.
The case in question here began in 2012, when two men purchased over 700 online domain names like googlebarackobama.com, googledisney.com and googletvnews.com. Of course, Google wasn’t necessarily happy with this, and challenged the use. The two men counter sued Google, arguing that the word Google (which comes from googol, a number followed by 100 zeros) “has been, and is now used as a common transitive verb meaning ‘to search the Internet or to search the Internet using any search engine.'”
A district court didn’t buy that, however, and ruled against the men, who took their case to circuit court. There, the restated their request to keep their sites, arguing that “it is an indisputable fact that a majority of the relevant public uses the word google as a verb.”
But the circuit court agreed with the lower court, and said that Google was still an enforceable trademark. There’s no denying Google has become a common word these days, but for now, it’s still one the company plans to hold on to.
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