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Verbing Weirds Google 856

Posted by timothy
from the stupid-lawyer-tricks dept.
MoNickels writes "Back in January, the American Dialect Society voted the neologism "to google" as the most useful word of 2002. Now bring on the lawyers! Google's have sent a cease-and-desist letter to Paul McFedries, creator of the famous Word Spy site, demanding he remove google as a verb from his lexicon, or else. Frank Abate, an American editor for the Oxford English Dictionary, points out, however, that you can't claim proprietary rights to a verb." Update: 02/26 03:19 GMT by T : MoNickels writes with an update: "Frank Abate is not an editor of the OED, but he is a former editor of the New Oxford American Dictionary, both published by Oxford University Press." Thanks for the amendment!
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Verbing Weirds Google

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  • a site we're less likley to boycot then MPAA.

    suing over a verb, indeed.
    • Re:finally (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tempest303 (259600) <jensknutson@[ ]oo.com ['yah' in gap]> on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @04:50PM (#5382148) Homepage
      They kind of have to try, actually. Trademarks can only be held if you actively defend them - if Google didn't take *some* kind of action to protect it's trademark, they could lose it!

      That said, it really sucks that it had to happen - I wonder if Google has to actually sue this guy in order to satisfy the defense clause for trademarks... I would hope not.
      • quote from the letter: I have recently become aware of a definition of "google" on your website, www.wordspy.com. This definition implies that "google" is a verb synonymous with "search." Please note that Google is a trademark of Google Technology Inc

        "Google" might be a trademark, but "google" isn't. A good example is "Ford" - the motor company, versus "ford" - a shallow place in a body of water that can be crossed (forded) easily :-)

        • by platypus (18156) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @05:30PM (#5382602) Homepage
          "Google" might be a trademark, but "google" isn't

          But maybe they fear that something happens to them like to Xerox. If "to google" becomes a common word, maybe then their trademark would be worthless? Next, someone sets up googler.com and defends itself by purporting that "googler" cannot breach a trademark more than "searcher".

          I don't know ...

      • Re:finally (Score:5, Informative)

        by Patrick13 (223909) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @07:28PM (#5383405) Homepage Journal
        Ironically, according to what I've read in the retail industry, one of the best things that can happen to your brand is that it become colloquially accepted as the overall term for a group of products.

        ie:

        a "coke" instead of a carbonated beverage
        a "thermos" rather than a... err a thermal flask?
        a "kleenex" instead of a paper tissue

        On the otherhand... according to this [netpreneur.org] the quickest way to lose your copyright is to have your brand perceived as a generic term.

        By the way, I found the above article by googli^U^U^U using the search engine Google [google.com]®.

        ;P

  • never work (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JohnG (93975) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @04:46PM (#5382073)
    The post office has been pretty peeved over the usage and meaning of the term "Going Postal", but haven't had much success stopping it's usage. The makers of Spam the meat haven't been to thrilled with it's usage when referring to junk email either, but haven't stopped it. Even if Google gets "to google" out of the lexicon, it will still be used rampantly. The only thing they will accomplish is making themselves look like asses for complaining in the first place.
    • Re:never work (Score:5, Informative)

      by aiken_d (127097) <brooks AT tangentry DOT com> on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @04:54PM (#5382203) Homepage
      Actually, Hormel has given up on the spam thing. They used to say that it was OK to use the work in lower case to refer to junk email, but would actively contact and even threaten folks using it in its capitalized form. However, they've apparently decided that any publiclity is good publicity.

      Google's intent here is clearly to protect their trademark -- they don't really have a choice. If they aquiesce and agree that "to google" is a generic word and not a brand reference, you can bet that Inktomi and Overture-those-fraudulent-bastards-it's-a-classifi ed-ad-engine-not-a-search-engine will call their offerings "Googlers" or something similar. Which would be a moral victory for Google, but perhaps a commercial disaster.

      Cheers
      -b
      • by pclminion (145572) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @05:21PM (#5382509)
        However, they've apparently decided that any publiclity is good publicity.

        Have you seen their recent TV ad, with the guy at the dinner table who turns to the camera, puts on the funniest shit-eating grin you can imagine, and screams "MORE SPAM!!!!" Then a truck carrying Spam(TM) crashes through the wall into the dining room.

        Kind of like spam mail crashing into your inbox, interrupting whatever you were currently in the middle of doing... It's a brilliant ad.

        • by Didion Sprague (615213) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @05:41PM (#5382726)
          I watched the ad and went out and bought some Spam (TM).

          First, Spam comes in a neat can. It's curved and low-to-the-ground. I like that. It's very appealing to purchase something and actually like the way it's packaged. I consider this a successful purchase.

          Next, the can opens easily. Again: this is a good thing. The little pull-tab is nice.

          Now, I expected lots of Spam juice to come dripping out when I yanked off the top, but I was pleased to see that no Spam juice flew forth.

          Even better, the spam actually *filled* the can. It's not like a bag of potato chips. Open the bag and you're lucky to see fifteen chips.

          Spam is most definitely "old-school" when it comes to packaging: they have a product, have a nice can, and fill the can with the product. Thumbs up, boys.

          There are recipes on the side of the can. Better still, the recipes are fairly easy to make. I opted for the "fried Spam". The recipe indicated that I should scramble some eggs. I did this, toasted some Butternut Texas toast (thick slices of bread, in case you're not sure what 'Texas Toast' is), and then got my tried-and-true non-stick frying pan (lots of teflon for those of us who, like myself, have no idea what 'seasoning a skillet' means and so buy into the non-stick hype.)

          Out of the can, Spam is a little on the pinkish side. It definitely needed some "color" (as they say) before it was completely palatable. I'm sure raw Spam would taste no different than cooked Spam, but I wasn't sure about the level of processing Spam underwent, so -- in the interested of safety -- I fried thin slices until they were dark brown and slightly burnt at the edges.

          I slid the Spam onto the plate (thanks to teflon), slid the eggs onto the plate, and pulled the two pieces of Texas toast from the toaster. I slathered some *real butter* on the toast, cut it in triangles like they do at all fine restaurants, and went to sit in my favorite chair. I had to leave the food for a moment and go back into the kitchen because I forgot my Red Bull. But when I went back to the plate, the Spam was still warm, the eggs were perfect, and the butter had melted into my toast.

          The fried Spam -- pork shoulder and ham -- was good. It wasn't great. It wasn't like Jimmie Dean sausage flavored with maple syrup. And it certainly wasn't like Pigs-in-blankets (pancakes wrapped around sausage) but it was damn good. It was a little bland. But it had texture -- a lot of it -- and felt good when I chewed.

          The sweet, medicinal Red Bull sorta cast a pall on the otherwise good meal, but Red Bull at breakfast is a necessity for me, so I didn't have much choice.

          • by mog (22706) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (elahcmxela)> on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @06:03PM (#5382930)
            You, sir, have managed to make a story about SPAM interesting. I applaud you, and I applaud SPAM!

            Unfortunately, to celebrate you, I thought it fitting to take down SpamAssassin for a brief moment. Now I have a sore .. member .., a computer full of rather unpleasant porn, and my entire estate now belongs to the Nigerians. What a world!
          • by lactose99 (71132) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @07:04PM (#5383253)
            I have a genuine Spam(TM) key on my keychain. Its been there since grade school (a looooong time ago). I always had the strangest notion that one day, if I ever ran away from home, I would walk along some railroad tracks and come across a dead hobo with a backpack full of Spam(TM). I always assumed that he would have lost the key, partly because he was a hobo, but mostly because he was a dead hobo.

            The key is still on my keychain, probably the only thing (besides my imagination and various birthmarks) that I've ever kept for so long.
          • by Fross (83754) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @07:39PM (#5383455) Homepage
            a colleague of mine used to work in a canning factory.

            you want to know why the spam fills the can, and there is no "juice" that falls out when you open it?

            because they cook it in the can.

            the ingredients go in, they seal it, then they cook it.

            mmm mmm good. D:

    • by ahecht (567934) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @04:54PM (#5382212) Homepage
      Hormel has stated that people can use the term spam to refer to junk mail as long as they don't capitalize it, so I think Google should do the same (so the verb would be "to google", not "to Google").
    • Re:never work (Score:5, Insightful)

      by loucura! (247834) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @04:55PM (#5382228)
      They have to go after it, because it is an infringing use of their Trademark. Otherwise, they lose the trademark.

      Granted, it will probably still be used, like "Xerox" for making copies, but it is not in Google's best interests to encourage it.

      • by Lemmy Caution (8378) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @05:45PM (#5382764) Homepage
        Dictionaries are in the business of reportage. People are using the word "google" as a verb, and that's a fact. The dictionary is reporting this fact. Any objection to their reportage is a straightforward suppression of free speech.
    • The makers of Spam the meat [sic] haven't been to thrilled with it's usage when referring to junk email either, but haven't stopped it.

      When discussing Spam, the context demands that all mention of "meat" be enclosed in quotes.

      For example:

      The makers of Spam the "meat" have given up trying to stop the use of their trademark when referring to junk email. This is because Spam is easily confused with everything except meat, including unsolicited electronic messages downloaded to unwilling recipients' computers.
  • They're sounding a lot like MS ever since the whole "deal with the devil" capitulation to the Chinese government last year.
  • by Transient0 (175617) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @04:47PM (#5382084) Homepage
    maybe one day language will be a complete impediment to understanding
  • as in... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by crumbz (41803) <.moc.liamg>maps ... uj>maps_evomer> on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @04:47PM (#5382085) Homepage
    ..to Xerox
  • Who cares. (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I'm going to go and google myself until this blows over. Don't worry, I won't google on the carpet.
  • is Google going to stop everyone else from using the seemingly more popular "go google for it"? Wouldn't Google want this sort of publicity? Become a common-place-word?

    Does it hurt Kleenex that people refer to facial tissue as Kleenexes? Yeah, I didn't think so.
    • by agentZ (210674) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @04:52PM (#5382180)
      If he does remove it from his web site, will it still be available via the Google cache?
    • is Google going to stop everyone else from using the seemingly more popular "go google for it"?

      No, but they have to at least be seen as trying to protect against the dilution of their trademark.

      Wouldn't Google want this sort of publicity? Become a common-place-word?

      If "Google" becomes the common word that means "to search on a search engine", then everybody can and will set up "google engines". That can confuse people, and allow competitors to ride on the marketing and popularity of Google. I remember an advertisement from Xerox that pleaded for people to use "photocopy" instead of "xerox", for the same reason.

      Worse, when it stops being a trademark, the company loses control over the meaning of the word. Over time, "microsoft" can become "mean and ugly", and the original trademark holder will have to suffer the connotation or change names.

    • by jeffy124 (453342) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @05:12PM (#5382413) Homepage Journal
      actually, the c&d letter alternatively asked him to note that "Google" is a of Google Technology Inc. Which is what he appears to have done.

      Naturally, the submitter above chose to ignore that and focus on the "please remove" part of the letter.
  • trademarked? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by kazad (619012)
    This is interesting. Is google a trademark? Is it in sufficient common usage to be acceptable (I.e. coke for any soda down in the south, xerox for generic photocopy, kleenex for a tissue).

    Although in this case, googling something means going to google, and not a generic search.
  • by Kenja (541830) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @04:48PM (#5382106)
    Lets make Google a pejorative instead.

    I need to take a google.
    He's a total google.
    What a google.

    Seems to work.
  • by ackthpt (218170)
    Back in the day, Xerox fought the use of 'xerox' as, to 'xerox' something being equivilent to photocopying. They had a point, same as Google does, to prevent watering down their trademark.
  • by Schnapple (262314) <tomkidd@viatexas.cPERIODom minus punct> on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @04:48PM (#5382113) Homepage
    ...is that it becomes a term, and they lose their trademark on it. For example, Thermos is a noun but it used to be a trademark of the Aladdin corporation.

    Google is just fine with Josh on The West Wing telling Donna to "go Google it", but they're terrified once it goes into print.

    What I wonder is this - did Google ever just ask the site to take it down nicely? Did they just go straight to the cease-and-desist order? And if they did, is this for some indisputable legal "we'll look like dicks, but..." reason? I'd hate to see a chink in the "we're all for them" online armor they have right now.

  • by kafka93 (243640) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @04:49PM (#5382118)
    .. it seems reasonably likely to me that 'Google' is constructed from 'go ogle'. If this is indeed the case, it seems especially hypocritical to be trying to defend from 'verbing' a trademark that is itself derived from a verb.

    If I'm completely wrong, then.. well, this still sucks. This kind of behaviour inevitably leaves a bad taste in people's mouths -- a real shame, since Google's been doing a lot of things reasonably well..
    • From Google.com (Score:4, Informative)

      by BSDevil (301159) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @05:50PM (#5382811) Journal
      What Google means

      Google is a play on the word "googol", which was coined by Milton Sirotta, nephew of American mathematician Edward Kasner, to refer to the number represented by 1 followed by 100 zeros. A googol is a very large number. There isn't a googol of anything in the universe. Not stars, not dust particles, not atoms. Google's use of the term reflects the company's mission to organize the immense, seemingly infinite, amount of information available on the web.

      (from Google's Corporate History [google.ca])

      • Re:From Google.com (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bungo (50628)
        >1 followed by 100 zeros. A googol is a very large number. There isn't a googol of anything in the
        >universe. Not stars, not dust particles, not atoms.

        I think you mean a googol-plex, which is a googol raised to a googol. That's more than the number of atoms in the universe.

  • de facto (Score:2, Insightful)

    by entr00pi (519471)
    and this is a bad thing how?

    courtesy of http://www.m-w.com:

    Main Entry: xerox
    Pronunciation: 'zir-"äks, 'zE-"räks
    Function: transitive verb
    Etymology: from Xerox
    Date: 1965
    1 : to copy on a Xerox copier
    2 : to make (a copy) on a Xerox copier
  • by josh crawley (537561) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @04:50PM (#5382142)
    What about Slashdotting?

    Come on Timothy, we know what you're thinking ;-)
  • by dan g (30777) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @04:51PM (#5382162) Homepage
    Looks like Google is Amazoning WordSpy.
  • by jd142 (129673) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @04:51PM (#5382175) Homepage
    *If* Google wants to keep their trademark, and there are good reasons for them to do so, then this is exactly what they need to do, whether you like it or not.

    Many products have lost their trademark through changes in the language. Aspirin used to be a trademark. Everyone else had to sell "headache powder" or something similar. Now, aspirin is a generic term. Something similar is happening now with Kleenex, Post-It Notes, and White Out.

    The question you should ask yourself is: Is it right for there to be a website that calls itself "Google: by Microsoft"? Because if Google looses its trademark, there's nothing to stop Microsoft from producing its own google. Just like there is now Bayer aspirin, St. Joseph's children's aspirin, etc.

    So if Microsoft's google is ok, then Google is wrong. But if you don't want Microsoft to have the ability to rebrand MSN Search as Microsoft's Google, then Google needs to do this.

    • Even the threat of legal action won't have any measurable effect, I suspect, and I think that's a good thing.

      The English language is a living, constantly-changing entity. New words and new meanings for established words appear nearly every day. Remember when "gay" meant "happy," or when a "joint" was a saloon? Although this may be a boon to the dictionary-makers (who roll out a new edition every year or so) and a headache for trademark lawyers (who need to take out ads in magazines to get writers not to use product names as verbs), it's evidence that our communication is constantly changing.

      And sometimes it's the words themselves that change, as well as the medium in which they're embedded. Any attempt to freeze words or even to own them is doomed to failure in a vibrant language.

      Besides, it's hard for me to feel sorry for the companies who seem to be a victim of their own success. Although I can certainly appreciate the irony that making something a household word is both a wonderful testament to the power of advertising and at the same time threat to a company's trademark, I am unwilling to turn control of the language over to corporations, courts and lawyers.

      So I'll still do my xeroxing on a Savin machine, thank you very much. And eat generic jello. I may not go rollerblading, but I will use kleenex (even if it's not made by Kimberly-Clark).

    • Not relevant!

      If Google was sueing someone for using the word Google in - for example - a novel or film then your argument might be relevant. But someone who compiles a dictionary isn't using the word, they are reporting the fact that other people do so. They are in effect journalists.

      In the same way, it would be illegal to burn down Google's HQ, but they couldn't do anything against journalists who reported that it had happened (assuming their reports were true).

      At the end of the day, all we should conclude is that wealth has turned the guys who run Google into the same sort of offensive facists who run most other corporations. Any sane person would welcome the extra free publicity. And BTW, I don't try any of this "If they don't defend their trademark then the will lose it" tripe. You can only lose your trademark if you don't defend it when it is infringed, failure to defend it when it isn't being infringed (as in this case) is irrelevant!

      • At the end of the day, all we should conclude is that wealth has turned the guys who run Google into the same sort of offensive facists who run most other corporations.

        Your comment is insightful like a brick. They are dealing with this in exactly the correct manner, whether or not this is an infringing use of the trademark. They have simply asked this guy to note that Google is a trademark of Google corporation. They did not say, "You cannot call Google a verb." They are not suing. They did not threaten to sue.
    • by renard (94190) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @05:31PM (#5382616)
      *If* Google wants to keep their trademark, and there are good reasons for them to do so, then this is exactly what they need to do, whether you like it or not.

      Apparently you didn't read the linked article [linguistlist.org] (it's okay - not the first time on Slashdot, and won't be the last).

      Verb usage is specifically exempted from US trademark law. So while it is true that Google would have to sue to prevent dilution of its trademark in the case of other "Google sites" or "Google services", when it comes to "googling" (esp. as in the current case, that is, dictionary, word, and usage tracking) they have no legal leg to stand on.

      Google on, friends.

      -renard

  • by daoine (123140) <moruadh1013@@@yahoo...com> on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @04:53PM (#5382191)
    From Google's Cease and Desist:

    We ask that you help us to protect our brand by deleting the definition of "google" found at wordspy.com or revising it to take into account the trademark status of Google.

    The story makes this out to be a whole lot worse than it is. It doesn't seem like they're being unreasonable. They're likely not going to go on an all out attack, they just want the trademark status accounted for.

    • I think that an update should be posted at the article level ASAP - this way, with the "or else" clause, it just shows the editor never read the linked in material, and makes /. look bad.
    • by Da Schmiz (300867) <slashdot AT pryden DOT net> on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @05:38PM (#5382698) Homepage
      Agreed. This is not unreasonable at all.

      IMO, the phrase in the definition that Google's lawyers are taking issue with is "such as": "google: v. To use an Internet search engine such as google.com to look for information." That's what the letter means when it says: "This definition implies that "google" is a verb synonymous with "search.""

      The implication is that I would say, "Hey, I googled X" when I had in fact used some other search engine. AFAIK, this is not a common use. In part because of the widespread popularity of Google, the search engine, when people use "google" as a verb, they always mean Google (at least in my experience). If someone starts using "google" as a verb to simply mean "an Internet search engine" then Google will, naturally, show a legal interest. As the letter says: "We want to make sure that when people use "Google," they are referring to the services our company provides and not to Internet searching in general."

      If the definition read "google: v. To use the Internet search engine google.com to...", then I doubt McFedries would have received the letter.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @04:54PM (#5382204)
    READ THE LETTER!


    This is just a "request" from a lawyer:


    "....We ask that you help us to protect our brand by deleting the definition of
    "google" found at wordspy.com or revising it to take into account the
    trademark status of Google."


    Lawyers do this all time. You have the option of saying "No".


    It is NOT a Cease and Desist letter.


    thanks Timothy for more FUD.

  • Verbs (Score:5, Funny)

    by grub (11606) <slashdot@grub.net> on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @04:54PM (#5382217) Homepage Journal

    " ..you can't claim proprietary rights to a verb."

    Bill: Boy, we sure Microsofted that company, eh Steve?

    Steve: You bet Bill, good work!
  • Bleh (Score:4, Interesting)

    by autopr0n (534291) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @04:54PM (#5382218) Homepage Journal
    Of course, the downside is that if Google loses it's trademark then other companies can use the term for themselves. Alltheweb can say, for example, "come google with us".

    On the other hand, unlike the situation with Nintendo, no one can take google's domain name. If google does become a term meaning "to search the internet with an effective relevancy calculator" then their domain name will always be synonymous.

    Personally, though, I say screw google. They put autopr0n on the 11th page on a search for "autopr0n", which doesn't make any damn sense. And no one is ever going to say "Let me Alltheweb for it."
  • by friendofafriend (602350) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @04:55PM (#5382230)
    The letter from Google says:
    We ask that you help us to protect our brand by deleting the definition of "google" found at wordspy.com or revising it to take into account the trademark status of Google.
    So why not just mention google is a trademark in the definition - that is all they are asking!
  • Googling (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Golias (176380) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @04:56PM (#5382239)
    Using "google" as a verb should be just fine... as long as you are talking about using Google to do your search. Otherwise, it's diluting their trademark. If people start saying "go to Alta Vista and Google around for it," then suddenly it becomes like how people were starting to say "Curad Band -Aids" instead of "Curad bandages" before the makers of Band-Aid bandages began going to great lengths to protect thier brand.

    It reminds me of how "Coke" has become a generic word for soda pop in some parts of the South. If you order a "Coke" in some sourthern establishments, the redneck bartender will ask you "what kind of Coke do y'all want? Orange? Pepsi? Root Beer?"

    For a while, Pepsi was selling really cheap to restaurants (to get more customers accoustomed to the taste). If you went into a restaraunt and ordered a "Coke," you would often get Pepsi... until recently. These days, if you order a "Coke" and they only have Pepsi products, your server will have been trained to ask "is Pepsi okay," because Coke occastionally sends reps out to look for restaurants who are substituting Pepsi for Coke orders without telling customers, and suing the asses off anybody they catch doing it.

    Trademark laws are not set up to favor the nice guys. The law is pretty much, "be a bastard about your trademarks, or they become part of the language and it will be okay for your competition to use them."

  • by CoreDump (1715) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @04:56PM (#5382241) Homepage Journal
    'google' is used as a verb in William Gibson's new novel _Patter_Recognition_. I think it's hard to say that it hasn't entered common lexicon as a verb.
  • by chrispycreeme (550607) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @04:59PM (#5382289)
    Today on the way to work some guy Macintoshed my car. I am going to court to Microsoft him! IF that doesnt work I think I may hire some thugs to Exxon his ass and Nike his wife!
    • Today on the way to work some guy Macintoshed my car...

      You mean he painted it lime-green and charged you four times the price of a beige paint-job?

      - Stealth Dave
      Proud owner of an Apple iBook.

  • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @05:00PM (#5382299) Homepage Journal
    The lawyer's letter ends with:
    We ask that you help us to protect our brand by deleting the definition of "google" found at wordspy.com or revising it to take into account the trademark status of Google.

    That seems like a perfectly reasonable and polite request. The folks at Google are now on record as trying to protect their trademark, and they were pleasant about it to boot. Note also that they provided a reasonable alternative to deleting the entry altogether. Presumably something along the lines of:

    google: v To search, particularly on the Internet. Et.: Google is the trademarked name of the Internet search engine at www.google.com
    would be sufficient for all involved. This sounds like much to do about nothing.
  • Cease? Desist? (Score:3, Informative)

    by brettlbecker (596407) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @05:04PM (#5382344) Homepage
    Google's have sent a cease-and-desist letter to Paul McFedries, creator of the famous Word Spy site

    I can't believe this is being called a "cease and desist" letter. What is the deal with this bottom-sucking sensationalism? The letter simply said, look, that's our trademark, and we want you to either reference it adequately or remove it. It's since been referenced. Now, if Google doesn't think it's been referenced adequately enough, you might expect a second letter, which, if not followed up properly, might turn into a future cease and desist letter... but geez, this one was hardly threatening, and, as far as I know about copyright law, it was well within Google's rights to request that he reference their trademark.

    I suppose it's too much to ask for the submissions to not always have the aura of inane paranoia...

    B

  • by cenonce (597067) <anthony_t@nosPaM.mac.com> on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @05:05PM (#5382349)

    They actually sent a cease and desist because use as a verb is clear signs that a trademark is becoming (or has become) generic. See TMEP 1209.01(c) [uspto.gov]. As such, another party can use that as a defense if Google tries to claim trademark infringement. So I'm not surprised they sent the cease & desist and would have done the same thing.

    Anybody recall the Xerox ad of a few years ago... "There are two R's in XEROX(r) "? The whole purpose of that ad was to get people to realize that a) XEROX is a trademark and b) to stop using it as a verb (i.e., "I xeroxed this article for my friend") which causes it to lose its trademark status.

    Trademarks, though a form of intellectual property, are more about consumer protection than about restricting people from using certain words.

    -A

  • by gafferted (560272) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @05:09PM (#5382386)
    The real question is not "Is google a verb?" but "Is google a GENERIC verb?"

    The lexicon suggests that google is a verb that can apply to any search engine. I would counter that the correct and current usage is that you only google on google.com.

    By way of contrast, I believe that "slashdotting" is a generic verb because for example, a listing in memepool might cause a site to be slashdotted.

    Andrew

  • by stand (126023) <stan@dyck.gmail@com> on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @05:18PM (#5382471) Homepage Journal
    google
    v. googled, googling
    1. To search for as in on the Web. After the Internet based search engine company. Usage: I googled my blind date before got ready to go and found out she's a felon.
    2. To engage in the practice of sending stupid cease and desist letters in an attempt to alter the natural evolution of language usage. After the same. Usage: Holy Crap! My Star Trek fan site just got googled by Paramount.
  • by Sanity (1431) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @05:27PM (#5382567) Homepage Journal
    For a company which does its business online, and which owns its domain name, surely the concept of a trademark becomes somewhat obsolete. Wouldn't the common usage of the verb "to Google" meaning "to search" increase the value of the domain google.com?

    IMHO, this is a typical case of a laywer being too trigger-happy to appreciate the big picture. If I owned google.com, widespread use of the term "google" would be music to my ears, trademarks be damned.

  • WTF, dating? ? ? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cokelee (585232) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @05:27PM (#5382569)
    google (GOO.gul) v. To use an Internet search engine such as google.com to look for information related to a new or potential girlfriend or boyfriend. (Note that Google(TM) is a trademark of Google Technologies Inc.) -The World Spy - google [wordspy.com]

    No, just no. Google has nothing to do with looking for a potention girlfriend or boyfriend or friendly friend. Not even an adequate definition. To google is NOT to use "a" search engine, it is to use Google. I don't call it "googling" unless I use GOOGLE!

    What the hell is wrong with these people?!?! Dating . . . any search engine . . . these people have never GOOGLED!

  • by Michael Woodhams (112247) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @05:34PM (#5382651) Journal
    The /. story seems to me to greatly exagerate the facts.

    The letter is a polite request - not a 'cease-and-desist'. All that they ask is that the dictionary entry acknowledge their trademark:

    We ask that you help us to protect our brand by deleting the definition of "google" found at wordspy.com or revising it to take into account the trademark status of Google

    Do they have the right to demand this? According to one of the links in the story, probably not. It is polite and sensible for Word Spy to do this? Yes. Have they done this? Yes:

    (GOO.gul) v. To use an Internet search engine such as google.com to look for information related to a new or potential girlfriend or boyfriend. (Note that Google(TM) is a trademark of Google Technologies Inc.)
  • by ageitgey (216346) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @05:35PM (#5382658) Homepage
    Trademarks (in the US at least) tend to be divided by courts into four strengths in the US. The strongest are made-up words, then the next strongest are regular words applied to product competely unrelated to the word. In other words, "Linux" or "Coca-Cola" are very strong marks because they are made up words. "Google" might be construed as a made up word, and thus very strong. But even if "Google" is interpreted as just a form of the math term "googol", it is still strong because it isn't applied to math. Thats how people can trademark regular english words with almost the same strength as a made up word. But I couldn't trademark "Red Apple" brand apples easily or at all because it just describes what it is.

    The problem is that if Google doesn't actively protect their mark and it becomes a word on it's own, then in effect the word "Google" just describes "Google" because it is a word with it's own meaning, refering to a type of search engine. Then they lose the ability to renew their trademark and prevent others from using it.

    So then I would be able to create www.googleit.com or www.gogoogle.com. That wouldn't be very good for their business.
  • by jdreed1024 (443938) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @05:43PM (#5382749)
    That was one of the nicest cease-and-desist letters I've read, since it was quite reasonable, and gave an option that wasn't "take it down" or "pay money".

    If you didn't read it, basically they're asking him to either remove it OR mention that "google" is a trademark of Google Technology. Yeesh. All he has to do is add one sentence to the definition, but instead it's "Waaah, I got a cease and desist letter, I don't know what to do, panic, panic, panic". He says he doesn't want to remove it, but he doesn't know what he should do. How about doing what they said, and mentioning the trademark?

    Certainly, mentioning the trademark would even improve the definition. When I tell someone, "Go Google for information on this", I mean go to www.google.com. If they come back to me and say "It wasn't on yahoo's search engine", I'll say "That's because you didn't do what I told you to do." Yeesh. It's a trademark, and all they're asking is that you acknowledge it as such. Just do it. You're not giving up any rights of your own.

    If you're really concerned about stupid trademark cease-and-desist stuff, there are bigger battles to fight, like the PCI thing, or MS's trademark of the word "windows".

  • by BSDevil (301159) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @05:57PM (#5382870) Journal
    As of a few minutes ago, the WordSpy definition is:

    (GOO.gul) v. To use an Internet search engine such as google.com to look for information related to a new or potential girlfriend or boyfriend. (Note that Google(TM) is a trademark of Google Technologies Inc.)

    So he did what Google asked: noted that it was a trademark. The site's still up. The definition's still valid. Presumably the Google lawyers are happy. I don't feel my civil or lexical rights have been trounced upon.

    As has often been said...move along folks, nothin' to see here.
  • by cjpez (148000) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @06:04PM (#5382932) Homepage Journal
    To use an Internet search engine such as google.com to look for information related to a new or potential girlfriend or boyfriend.
    What the hell? WTF is that? So when I was googling for Linux kernel panic information earlier, I was really looking for a potential girlfriend? Gah. Leave off everything past "google.com."
  • by privacyt (632473) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @08:36PM (#5383706)
    Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2003 21:19:26 -0800
    Reply-To: American Dialect Society
    Sender: American Dialect Society Mailing List
    From: Ben Ostrowsky
    Subject: Re: Google trademark concerns
    Comments: To: ADS-L@LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
    In-Reply-To:
    Content-Type: TEXT/PLAIN; charset=US-ASCII

    I'd guess that you can report accurately that many people use 'google' as a generic term, especially if you can cite some utterances.

    And you could send them a pamphlet of your own about the difference between prescriptive and descriptive definition-writing -- a sort of Lexicographer's Apology (like the Actor's Apology, "this is fiction, don't blame us if it looks painfully familiar to you") to explain that you're not urging people to use 'google' but merely recording the fact that some do, and what they mean by it.

    Good Lord, the OED had better watch out -- it's got 'xerox' and 'Kleenex', at the very least, and might get sued by companies after their trademarks have become common words.

    This argument sounds familiar: "I'm not responsible for the fact that this exists; I'm just recording that fact." Isn't that how Google's counsel would likely respond to charges that their site enables pedophiles to find depictions of illegal sex, like so?

    http://www.google.com/search?q=young+girl+erotic a

    If they have no duty to remove this from their site, what duty do you have to remove a harmless bit of lexicography?

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