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When Will Google™ Become Generic?

Naseem Javed

Today, there are hundreds of once highly protected famous name brands, which were backed by multi-million dollar promotional budgets, now commonly used in daily lingo as generic names, as it was their huge popularity that made them lose their trademark protection. So why is the use of famous trademarked names as 'verbs' in our daily language feared by the attorneys representing that mark? Now this calls for a closer look.

For example, when you open your fridge, have an aspirin, use a kleenex and watch the kids in spandex jumping the trampoline then go out rollerblading later you sit xeroxing then fedexing and have a granola or may be googling on the net. All these highlighted names are generic, and their respective owners try very hard to keep them unique by means of graphic logos for better identification.

Currently, the term, "to google", is in Oxford English Dictionary with a lower case "g". This is indicative that the word 'to google' has entered the English language as a word, and therefore, making it very difficult for the originators, Google™, to keep it exclusive for themselves. Today, anyone can manufacture a frigde, trampoline or a rollerblade, so does this mean that there will be googling devices and googling softwares, or google kits produced by others?

Now the giant of the search engine universe, Google™ flares up and warns media to back off from using its most powerful moniker, Google™ as a "verb". This now calls for an even closer look.

First of all, it is all about our cultural transition surrounded by today's Novo-Psycho-Cyber-Dependency-Behavior...i.e an uncontrollable and unstoppable compulsion disorder to become fully symbiotronically attached oneself to various access devices with the body, and to search the net for hidden secrets and hidden bargains in the farthest and darkest corners of the world. This cultural revolution and this cyber-dependency-behavior both embrace the centrality of 'googlization' as its main force. The popularity of Google™ is awesome, and soon, historians will refer to our current times as a Search-Craze-Era. Well done, Google™...viva le search.

Like Netsurfing or E-Mail and many thousands of other brand names that became common generic terms, Google is now swimming in the same soup, and if you google today or talk about googling, watch out as you are seriously upsetting this monster search engine. To many, this may sound like free advertising, though in reality, this is a corporate nightmare - a code-red alert strikes the boardroom. Legal SWAT teams swing into action to protect their successful global brand, and an aggressive policing of corporate name usage kicks in. Who knows, with so much technology available, imagine, if you typed in an email: "honey, I just got tired of googling..." Bang.. a stern message will pop up on your screen lecturing you on generic name rules 101, or even better, your system will simply crash and only re-open after you fax a signed and dually notarized apology.

Normally, lawyers can issue fancy memos on embossed stationery designed to force people and media to always refer to a brand name as a registered trademark of the company. They also instruct their advertising and branding agencies to avoid making creative uses and plays on the name when it is used in commercials or general promotional copies of ads. If a name is too playful then it also quickly becomes adopted in the language as a word like rollerblade.

Right now, even on the google site itself, the use of the word 'gooooooooogle' to represent the number of results pages in more dilution of the mark and so are the weekly cartooning on their main page that can lead to becoming a folklore content. However, this is a long and a painful process and in the end, it is the public that decides as to when and how a name will become generic and when will it lose its trademark powers.

Fortunately, studies have shown that certain alpha-structures do not easily lend themselves to verbing. Despite their fame and popularity in daily language, these types of names survive over time and remain powerful corporate brands while enjoying a proprietary status. Some examples are Yahoo, Apple, Netscape, Telus, Microsoft, Sony, Rolex and Nintendo. Have you ever heard, "I Rolexed and realized I was late?" or, "Leave me alone, I'm Appling"? How about, "I just Nintendozed off," or, "I was depressed and very Microsoftish"? Kindly let me know if you ever come across such "google de gook."

As a result, finding great corporate name identities has become a very scientific process and is no longer a hand holding creative exercise. To most corporation naming is treated as last minute casual process led by some big ad agency. Naming is a black and white exercise and not to be confused with logos and graphic designs. Under The Laws of Corporate Naming, all such issues are explored in advance so that a brand name will be engineered for durability and survive the test of time. The days of accidental business naming are over.

Google has a big battle ahead of it, and the fights will take place on two fronts. Firstly, the company still has the best search engine to date, and as a result, acquired too much global attention too quickly so the name will get deeper into the language. Secondly, as a borrowed word from the mathematical section of the English dictionary, the word "google" does have an alpha-structure that easily lends itself to cute verbalization. In time, it appears to have all the necessary ingredients to become generic. Right now, Sir Isaac Newton is simply googlified.

By Naseem Javed, Expert: Global Naming Complexities, Corporate Nomenclature, Image & Branding. He is the founder of ABC Namebank, author of 'Domination: The GTLD Name Game', syndicated columnist, keynote speaker and specialist on global naming complexities.

Related topics: Web

 
   

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Comments

Re: When Will Google™ Become Generic? Ram Mohan  –  Aug 17, 2006 10:52 AM PDT

Naseem, I agree that words that can be "verbified" like Google are at risk.  Interestingly, some of the other "hot" search engines in the past did not fall prey to this trend:

Inktomi
HotBot
Magellan
AskJeeves
Alta Vista

Interestingly, the other word that is getting RAPIDLY verbified is Skype — I skyped him is well becoming commonplace..

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