Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Becoming just another corporate old fart?

Alas, Google is growing up and becoming as stodgy as all the other grownup corporations, firing off lawyerly letters to media companies, asking them to stop using their trademarked name in vain -- that is, as a noun or verb. As a trademark, it can only be used as a capitalized adjective. The Independent quotes this masterpiece of corporate-speak from a spokesman:
We think it's important to make the distinction between using the word Google to describe using Google to search the internet, and using the word Google to describe searching the internet. It has some serious trademark issues."
Interestingly enough, apparently the spokesman couldn't talk about this issue without violating the trademark himself -- i.e., using Google as a noun. From a legal standpoint, he should have said "doing a Google search of the internet" or "using the Google search engine to search the internet" -- i.e., he should have used Google as an adjective. As the examples they sent out with their letter made perfectly clear:
"Appropriate: I ran a Google search to check out that guy from the party.

"Inappropriate: I googled that hottie."
It's all pretty silly when you stop and consider that Google's core product is one that deliberately treats upper-case and lower-case spellings of the same word as identical. In other words, the Google search engine itself can't tell the difference between the trademark and its violation. Hmm ... would you call that a bug, or a feature?

I deal with these nits all the time in my other life, where I edit business magazines, so allow me to vent for a moment. The effort of giant companies to keep their trademarks from becoming as generic as kleenex and xerox has always struck me as benighted at best and absolutely malignant at worst. How has Kleenex suffered? Or Xerox? (Well, Xerox has seen better days, but that's hardly because of trademark confusion.) If anything, achieving generic trademark status is a marketing plus -- especially if customers reach you through a proprietary URL that everyone knows. If Google ever lost "google.com" they would have something to worry about. The trademark? So what?

It's amazing how many attorneys corporate America employs just to enforce trademarks, leaving aside other varieties of intellectual property. It doesn't do much to increase productivity, but it sure does make work for lawyers.

Before Google went public it did not waste its resources with frivolous legalities like this (frivolous, perhaps not in the strict legal sense, but the business sense). They were too busy. They had a company to build, a world to change.

After Google went public and they were rolling in even more cash than they already had, they may have started running out of productive uses for the money. The cost of hiring way too many lawyers must have seemed trivial compared to their total asset base. Probably they could no longer resist the temptation. This is the result -- a kind of hardening of the corporate arteries. Hey, guys -- remember your frugal youth and what you used to say?

"Do no evil."

1 comment:

Solidinkoutlet said...

I recently read the article "Great Googlely Moogley! Don’t Use Their Name in Vain!" which was not half as good as yours.

I think this is all pretty silly Google has become a word due to how popular they are, shouldn't the be happy? They hear their name everywhere! Regardless, can they really sue and control if someone uses their name incorrectly?

I know they consider that they have a brand to protect, they wrote recently "A trademark is a word, name, symbol or device that identifies a particular company’s products or services. Google is a trademark identifying Google Inc. and our search technology and services. While we’re pleased that so many people think of us when they think of searching the web, let’s face it, we do have a brand to protect, so we’d like to make clear that you should please only use “Google” when you’re actually referring to Google Inc. and our services."

I still think this is all pretty silly and even if media companies dont use it everyone else does. Google has a definition on most popular dictionaries nowadays.

This is ridiculous.