"Google" has become synonymous with "search" for many Web surfers, but Steven A. Esrig wants 3-year-olds everywhere to think of Googles as furry, potbellied, four-eyed aliens from the planet Goo.
Esrig heads Stelor Productions Inc., a Darnestown company that runs a Web site for preschoolers called Googles.com. The private company says it registered the Web site featuring its animated creatures several months before Google.com was established in 1997 and is now trying to stop the leading Internet search engine from developing new products or services for children.
Stelor Productions filed documents with the Commerce Department's Patent and Trademark Office yesterday opposing an application from Google Inc. to broaden its trademark rights. Stelor said the similarity between the names is driving away potential investors and confusing customers. The company is challenging the search engine's request to use the Google name on children's books and other items, such as umbrellas, mouse pads and tote bags, that "are not expressly limited to adults."
"We want them staying out of the children's space," Esrig said. "Anything that could potentially be a children's item as far as I'm concerned is legally ours."
Stelor's complaint, which was reported in the Wall Street Journal, comes as the popular search engine, based in Mountain View, Calif., prepares for an initial public offering expected to raise $2.7 billion. The search engine's name is a take on "googol," the mathematical term for a one followed by a hundred zeros, and alludes to the overwhelming amount of information on the Internet.
A spokesman for Google declined to comment. But a statement in the company's filing to issue public stock touched on the general problem: "From time to time, we receive notice letters from patent holders alleging that certain of our products and services infringe their patent rights. Some of these have resulted in litigation against us."
Esrig said he wants to coexist with Google and has suggested that Googles.com become the children's arm of the search engine company. "The 's' could be for 'safety,' " he said.
His free Web site offers games, message boards and music related to the Googles characters. The site, which requires visitors to log in with a password, has 130,000 registered users, according to the company. Google says it is used by more than 80 million people a month.
Esrig's Web site assigns one of its seven full-time employees to answer e-mails from children curious about the Googles characters, but its inbox is inundated with thousands of e-mails a month from visitors angry that they "can't search for a cheesecake recipe," Esrig said. The company has created a filter Web page that asks "Are you looking for us?" before letting users enter the Googles.com site.
Stelor Productions also is asking the trademark office to cancel Google's trademark giving it the sole right to offer e-mail and search engine services under the Google name. Although Google Inc. has never threatened to stop Stelor Productions from offering a Googles e-mail service, the company wants to be sure that Google can never challenge its right to do so, said William M. Borchard, attorney for Stelor Productions.