Do You Yahoo!?
By Dick Kaser
Paul McFedries was on the receiving end of a cease-and-desist notice from
Google lawyers after having published a definition for the new verb "google" at
his Word Spy Web site (http://www.wordspy.com) earlier
this year. The site tracks new terms that are coming into common usage and
is a popular destination for wordsmiths.
Word Spy's definition is:
google (GOO-gul) v. To search for information on the Web, particularly
by using the Google search engine; to search the Web for information related
to a new or potential girlfriend or boyfriend.Googling pp.
Though more than one commentator on this topic has noted that you can't trademark
a verb, it looks to me like McFedries has tried to appease the lawyers anyway
by adding a note to his definition that acknowledges the Google name (at least
its noun form) as having trademark status.
The whole incident raises an interesting point about the protection of trademarks
Trademark lawyers, of course, would argue that diminution of the mark is
at issue. Everybody knows the horror stories of how Kleenex became synonymous
with "facial tissue" and how Xerox became one with the act of making a photocopy.
Ah, the painful agony of becoming so successful and important to the culture
that your name crosses over into popular usage. In these cases, the runaway
success of a product becomes its ultimate failure as a distinctive brand name.
What a (marvelous) dilemma.
Interestingly enough, when I googled the term "googling" on Google,
I got 21,600 hits (delivered to me in 0.16 seconds). You'd think if the Google
lawyers really wanted to pursue this, they might start by suppressing the term
on their own engine.
As this editorial's headline recalls, a very famous advertising campaign
by Yahoo!® actually encouraged the use of that brand name as a verb when
it asked, "Do You Yahoo!?"
I may be stepping out of line here because I really haven't asked our lawyers,
but I for one would be delighted if people respected this publication so much
that they'd refer to the act of finding out what was happening in our industry
(Note: Google is a trademark identifying the search technology and
services of Google Technologies, Inc. Our use of the term "googling" does not
in any way imply that we want you to think of Google as being synonymous
with searching the World Wide Web.)
Have your trademark lawyers contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dick Kaser is Information Today, Inc.'s vice president of
content. His e-mail address is email@example.com.