In a strange way, the latest lawsuit facing Google is a compliment of sorts. After all, at its core is the suggestion that Google has been so successful at what its original business was, that it has literally become synonymous with the idea of Internet search… which, in many ways, is a good thing. Of course, when that compliment is accompanying a lawsuit demanding that the name becomes genericized so as to allow anyone to use it, suddenly the compliment seems a little less flattering.
The lawsuit in question comes from one David Elliott, who is suing the company for the cancellation of its federally registered trademarks relating to its name, as well as a declaration that the word “Google” can be used to describe the act of searching for something online under the Fair Use Doctrine. The suit, which was filed in Phoenix, AZ, explains that “the term ‘Google’ is, or has become, a generic term universally used to describe the action of internet searching with any search engine, which cannot serve as a trademark to the exclusion of others.” It goes on to note that “The Collins English Dictionary, the online dictionary www.dictionary.com, and Wikipedia all recognize ‘Google’ a a transitive verb,” before pointing out that “On January 8, 2010, the American Dialect Society voted the verb ‘Google’ the word of the decade, identifying its meaning as ‘to search the internet.’”
While, admittedly, I’d argue against using Wikipedia as a reputable source for this lawsuit (or any lawsuit, for that matter), it’s worth admitting that the suit does make a good case for “Google” being widely accepted as a verb in general usage when discussing Internet search, even if the idea that that alone gives it cause for cancelling trademarks seems a little bit of a stretch. But, you may be wondering, why is this David Elliott bringing this lawsuit, anyway?
The answer lies elsewhere in the filing: “Plaintiff is developing an internet-based business that will promote commerce, community, relationships, personal health, charity and more. This business is based upon ICANN’s intention to remodel and restructure the Internet and its use by releasing affinity-and-location-based domain extensions… As part of these plans, Plaintiff obtained and registered the Domain Names in February and March of 2012 using Chris Gillespie’s GoDaddy.com account, to be used in connection with Plaintiff’s bona fide offering of goods and services. Plaintiff’s Domain Names, listed in Attachment A, contain the generic verb ‘Google’ (meaning ‘to search’) plus a noun, including topics, brands or persons, thereby creating a new term with a distinct meaning.”
Firstly: I don’t think whoever wrote that filing actually knows what “creating a new term with a distinct meaning” means. Secondly: The plaintiff wants Google to be de-trademarked so he can use their brand for his own gain? Really? Somehow, I don’t think this is going to be the most successful lawsuit of all time. Which is a shame, really; if you can ignore the (admittedly blinding) selfishness in the argument, there’s actually an interesting case here – When a company becomes so good at what it does that its name becomes a verb, how strictly can it control its trademarks? Sadly – but not the same sadness that David Elliott will feel – we may not find out anytime soon.