February 27, 2003
Google is Sending C&D Letters About Saying "To Google"

Google apparently sent out a cease and desist letter for trademark violation to wordspy for using the verb, to Google.

The lawyer for Google asks wordspy to, "help us to protect our brand by deleting the definition of "google" found at wordspy.com or revising it to take into account the trademark status of Google." Wordspy chose the later, with this addition: "(Note that Google™ is a trademark identifying the search technology and services of Google Technologies Inc.)" to their "to Google" definition. But Frank Abate notes:

"Of course google is used as a verb. And why not? It only makes sense, it is short, it is fun, it works. And what the Google (TM) lawyer knows, but does not say, is that the company he represents cannot do anything about its use as a verb, legally. They cannot sue, as one cannot claim proprietary rights to a verb. Jesse Sheidlower recently pointed this out to me; apparently it is an explicit part of US law re trademarks.... In short, Usage trumps Legality, in this instance, at least."

Since the issue with trademark generally is to protect consumers from the confusion caused by a similar or exact same name being linked to somewhat similar services or products, it would seem that this use is not a trademark infringement because using the verb, to google, refers to Google's services, and does not represent any other service, product or meaning. This is simplistic, I realize, but you get the point. And the context at wordspy is to define the verb, not name a service or product they provide.

Here is CNet's take.

Posted by Mary Hodder at February 27, 2003 07:27 AM

Google knows they can't control the vagaries of idiom, but they are taking the same tack nearly every company takes when faced with this kind of a problem: if they don't at least make a show of defending their trademarks, even when they know nothing will come of the effort, it can come back to bite them in other, more important circumstances. They need to build a legal case that they have been effectively "policing" their trademark so when something they really care about comes along (say Lycos starts using their trademark in Portugal, or somesuch) they can show the court they've been active.

Posted by: John Battelle on February 28, 2003 08:54 AM
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