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Over in the land of slightly crazy lawsuits, a man from Arizona filed a lawsuit Friday to make “Google” a generic word, Paid Content reports.
David Elliot filed the complaint in the United States District Court of Arizona. Elliot is a “third-party beneficiary” of Chris Gillespie, who lost a lawsuit against Google earlier this month. The search engine filed a complaint against Gillespie for registering website names with the name google in them, including “googlegaycruises.com,” “googlestarbucks.com,” and “googlechevron.com.” Gillespie was forced to hand over more than 750 domains.
Now, Elliot is countering, saying the company name has become a common transitive verb that refers to searching the Internet for content. The exact wording from the suit is as follows:
“The term ‘GOOGLE’ is, or has become, a generic term universally used to describe the action of internet search with any search engine.”
He has a point — most of us don’t say “I’m going to Bing it” — but it’s hard to prove that we use the verb “to google” in reference to other search engines.
Google won the trademark for its name in 1997 and has continued to earn several trademark certificates to keep ownership of the term “Google”. But a trademark is not a lifetime guarantee, and companies can lose the legal rights to a word if it becomes synonymous with a generic product or service. In his suit, Elliot mentions a 2010 report from Google in which the company allegedly said it was well aware of this risk.
Examples of once trademarked terms include aspirin, escalator, and even heroin. Once people began calling every moving set of stairs an escalator, the company holding that trademark lost its legal rights to the term. Several brands, including Kleenex, Xerox, and Band-Aid, have used extensive campaigns to prevent their trademarked terms from becoming so generic that they’d lose legal protection.
In order to retain control of the trademark, Google has to keep the term “google” associated with its company, search engine, and other services. Considering that when most of say we are “going to google something,” we actually go to Google.com to conduct our search, it might not be hard for Google to win this case. You can read the full filing below.
Google sign image via Flickr user Niall Kennedy