The surprise formation of Alphabet, a holding company headed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin of which Google is now a part, may have impressed investors, but BMW is evidently less pleased. It’s apparently an issue of nomenclature: the German automaker owns the trademark Alphabet and domain name alphabet.com, and has no interest in selling either of them.
BMW describes its Alphabet subsidiary, which provides vehicle leasing and management packages to corporations, as a “very active” part of its operations, and says it wasn’t informed of Google’s reorganization plans ahead of yesterday’s announcement. Furthermore, the car maker hasn’t so far received any offers for the trademark or domain name, a spokesperson told The New York Times.
BMW said it’s in the process of determining whether infringement has taken place. Trademark law isn’t cut-and-dry on the issue — according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, two entities can use the same copyrighted brand so long as the usage doesn’t “confuse” customers — but Google’s self-driving car project could be the rub. Its autonomous car division, Google Auto, resides under the new Alphabet umbrella.
But a court battle is unlikely. Google said in its announcement on Monday that it doesn’t intend to release any products or brands under the Alphabet name, and Reuters notes that there are 103 trademarks registered in the U.S. that include the word “alphabet” or some variation.
The domain name is a different story, but Google appears to have worked around BMW’s ownership by securing abc.xyz. That hasn’t prevented Chinese authorities from blocking it, nor has it prevented BMW’s Alphabet webpage from receiving an overwhelming influx of misdirected traffic, but Alphabet deserves some slack — it was born yesterday, after all.