Google Has Been Avoiding 'Genericide,' The Scariest Word In Trademark Law

Google Has Been Avoiding 'Genericide,' The Scariest Word In Trademark Law

Google, much like every other company in the world, wants its brand to be a household name. Also, like every other company, they don't want it to become too much of a household name. Becoming too familiar comes with implications that could negatively impact the trademark holder, so Google has worked to keep a tight grip on their brand.

Think of any time you conduct a search on the internet. Most of the time, a person would simply say that they "Googled" their query. This is for a few reasons. Firstly, more often than not, a person is using Google for their search, seeing as it is the predominant search engine on the market. Secondly, it is much easier to say "Googled" as a verb than it is to say, "I conducted a search" or any other phrase describing the process of using a search engine. Because Google has become so common in everyday speech, it's normal to say that you "Googled" something, even if you used a different search engine.


“I miss Jeeves. When I asked, he actually listened.”

This is where the idea of genericide comes into play. This term refers to death by becoming generic, causing companies to lose trademark rights when their brand becomes commonly referred to the product or service in general rather than the specific brand itself. Think of something like a Frisbee or Hacky Sack. These are two trademarked toys (conveniently by the same company), but they have become the common term used for these products in general. Yes, you could theoretically get in trouble for calling your flying disc a Frisbee or your footbag a Hacky Sack, but so many people do it that the trademark is not meaningfully associated strictly with the brand.

As of now, Google has become a common word, but the tech giant has managed to keep it from being a victim of genericide. Merriam-Webster recognizes "google" (in lowercase) as a verb, but its definition specifically refers to using the Google search engine. This has been the key to Google maintaining its trademark control. Google wants you to say that you are Googling your search queries, but they only want you to do so if you are using Google. If you, for some reason, are using Bing, then Google does not want you using Google as a verb.

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This specific control of the trademark has been effective. In 2017, a petition made its way to the Supreme Court that claimed that the term Google had become generic. The Court dismissed this. Google has effectively enforced their trademark to ensure that people are only "Googling" something when they are on Google. Any other web searching is just searching. 

As time passes and Google becomes more ingrained in daily life (as though it isn't already …), the legal status of the name may change. If you were worried about the dystopian mega-corporation losing their trademark rights, though, you can rest easy for now.

Top Image: PhotoMIX-Company/Pixabay

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