Google retains its trademark though the name is used as a verb, appeals court says
A federal appeals court has ruled that Google has not lost trademark protection for its name even though some people use “google” in a generic sense as a verb for the act of searching the internet.
The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled (PDF) Tuesday that Google could still be trademarked because consumers don’t use the word as a generic term for search engines, report the Recorder (sub. req.), the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.), Bloomberg News, the Metropolitan News-Enterprise and Ars Technica.
One of the two plaintiffs in the suit, Chris Gillespie, had acquired 763 domain names that included the word “google.” Google objected that the registrations amounted to cybersquatting. Gillespie sued in 2012 along with his spouse and business partner, David Elliot, in a bid to cancel the Google trademark.
The appeals court acknowledged that, over time, the holder of a trademark may fall victim to “genericide”—meaning the public appropriates a trademark as a generic name for types of goods. Examples of products that lost protection include “aspirin,” “cellophane” and “thermos.”
But the use of google as a verb doesn’t automatically constitute generic use, even if a majority of the public uses the word in a generic sense for internet searches, the appeals court said. No competing search engine calls itself a “google” and consumers don’t lump all search engines together as “googles,” the appeals court said.