So Google Is No Brand X, but What Is 'Genericide'?

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Saturday, August 5, 2006

Last month, we noted that "google" had entered Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. It was a landmark for the search engine -- going from nonentity to common usage in only eight years. One would think that a company that existed only in the minds of two college dudes a few years ago would be happy that a major publication such as The Washington Post prominently marked the occasion.

One would, that is, until one got a letter from Google's trademark lawyer.

Google, evidently, took offense to this passage in last month's article: "Google, the word, now takes its place alongside the handful of proper nouns that have moved beyond a particular product to become descriptors of an entire sector -- generic trademarks."

This characterization of Google, the letter warned, is "genericide" and should be avoided. Such letters are cranked out every day by companies keen on protecting their trademarks. Wham-O Inc. wants writers to eschew "Frisbee" for "plastic flying disc," for instance. I'll note that in my Palm. Excuse me -- my "personal digital assistant."

Google, however, goes the extra mile and provides a helpful list of appropriate and inappropriate uses of its name. To show how hip and down with the kids Google is, the company gets a little wacky with its examples. Here's one:

" Appropriate: He ego-surfs on the Google search engine to see if he's listed in the results.

Inappropriate: He googles himself."

But this one's our favorite:

" Appr opriate: I ran a Google search to check out that guy from the party.

Inappropriate: I googled that hottie."

It's a matter of debate whether it's appropriate or inappropriate for a market-leading company worth $113 billion to use the word "hottie" in official correspondence. What is beyond debate is the eye-popping fact that Google's trademark complaint arrived via a hand-addressed letter in the actual mail.

Wonder if they Google(TM)-d me to get the address.

-- Frank Ahrens


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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