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Google Looks to Avoid Becoming a Xerox of Kleenex

By - August 08, 2006

Kleenex

Like the folks in the click fraud de-fictionalizing department, Google’s trademark lawyers are only doing their job. But as with so many things when your dorm-room inspired company gets huge, the Doing Of A Job runs entirely counter to the philosophical foundations of the company samesaid trademark lawyers are apparently doing their job to protect.

Allow me to explain (I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night, sorry). If you are the holder of a valuable trademark (say, one of the most valuable brands in the world, for example), it’s really, really bad for that same mark to be used casually to indicate an entire process, a process which, in fact, is generic and need not necessarily be tied to your brand or product. It’s the same problem Xerox has with copying, or Kleenex with facial tissue. In short, Google might lose its trademark due to – overwhelming association with the problem its brand solves.

Now, no one at Google had a problem with Google entering the lexicon a few years ago. In fact, it was celebrated inside the ‘plex, as I recall.

But trademark law says you have to show an effort to protect your mark, or you can lose it. Hence, Google now finds itself sending silly letters to newspapers who use the Google brand as a verb. Next up, I’m sure, are half hearted ads in the Columbia Journalism Review.

I can’t imagine these letters are sent with any expectation of changing anything. But it’s fun to see them in any case.


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5 thoughts on “Google Looks to Avoid Becoming a Xerox of Kleenex

  1. Eric Giguere says:

    In all fairness, John, trademark protection can be lost if you don’t actively police infringements. If their lawyers weren’t sending these letters they’d be neglecting their duties.

  2. I think this is an important issue for Google and a legitimate concern. However, they are somewhat inconsistent in how they address it a la the Pontiac commerical which says “Google Pontiac!”.

  3. Tom says:

    Everything about that letter seems geared to suggest to the recipient that they shouldn’t take it too seriously – hand-addressed, snail-mail, silly examples. I’d like to think Google are just doing what they legally have to do to be seen to maintain the trademark, without really wanting people to stop using the word casually.

    I also think that so long as the people using it are actually referring to the use of Google, rather than another search engine, that it shouldn’t be seen as degrading their trademark.

  4. that’s silly, but they can’t help being so popular. google has been more of a widely-used jargon when you wanna tell someone to search something via google. i guess that’s an inevitable factor, considering Britney’s case, Britney is also used as an adjective now, purporting to someone who acts or looks like Britney.

  5. Clumpy says:

    When we say “Google”, we really MEAN using the Google search engine. Google the product is popular, and only inept people would say “Google” when they really mean “use Yahoo.” The ability to verb Google without it sounding artificial or referring to another product is undoubtedly one of the strengths of the product.