For this week’s Friday topic, we’re talking trademarks. In that title, ‘ask Google – google Ask‘, which is allowable and which is not. According to a post by Michael Krantz, Do you “Google?” in the Official Google Blog, the Google lawyers would suggest the first part is acceptable but the second half is not. Michael Ferguson, writing in Ask’s Official Blog in a post entitled, You Do and/or May, In Fact, “Ask” (or “ask”), would seem to concur.
Well that’s fine for them, but they’re all interested parties. What do the rest of us feel? Trademarks are a rich source of work for the word-merchants, in other words the lawyers, but at the end of the day it’s also got to make sense.
The Official Google Blog tries to set us straight:
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.
Well for a start, that’s incorrect. There are two other owners of live US Google trademarks. One of these Google trademarks covers Real estate brokerage. The other Google trademark covers Ankle and wrist weights for exercise; Archery bows; Badminton racket strings; Ball bearings for in-line skates; Ball bearings for roller skates; Ball bearings for skateboards; Baseball bases; Baseball bats; Baseball batting gloves; Baseball gloves; Baseballs; Basket balls; Basketball hoops; Basketballs; Beach balls; Billiard balls; Billiard cue racks; Billiard cues; Cases for tennis balls; Chalk for billiard cues; Chest protectors; Crossbows; Cue sticks; Exercise benches; Exercise doorway gym bars; Exercise equipment, namely, chest expanders; Exercise equipment, namely, chest pulls; Exercise equipment, namely, stationary cycles; Exercise machines; Exercise machines incorporating electronic and video game controllers, Exercise platforms; Exercise wrist weights; Field hockey balls; Fishing equipment, namely, winging material for fishing jigs and streamers; Fishing floats; Fishing lines; Fishing lures; Fishing lures, namely, plastic worms; Fishing reels; Fishing rods; Fishing tackle boxes; Foot balls; Golf bag covers; Golf bags; Golf ball retrievers; Golf balls; Golf club bags; Golf club covers; Golf club heads; Golf club inserts; Golf club shafts; Hand balls; Ice skate blades; Ice skates; In-line skates; Inflatable float tubes for fishing; Inflatable pools for recreational use; Inflatable swimming pools ; Leg weights for exercising; Paddle balls; Play swimming pools; Playground balls; Pool cue cases; Pool cue racks; Pool cue tips; Pool cues; Racket balls; Racket cases ; Rackets and strings for rackets; Racquet ball gloves; Racquet ball racket covers; Racquet ball racket strings; Racquet ball rackets; Racquet balls; Roller skates; Rubber action balls; Rubber balls; Rubber baseballs; Snow boards; Snow shoes; Snow skis. Snow sleds for recreational use; Snowboard bindings; Snowboards; Soccer balls; Soft tennis balls; Sport balls; Sportsman’s fishing bags; Squash balls; Squash racket strings; Squash rackets; Stationary exercise bicycles; Stress relief balls for hand exercise; Surf boards; Swimming boards; Table tennis rackets; Table-tennis balls; Tennis balls; Tennis balls; Tennis racket covers; Tennis racket strings; Tennis racquets; Volley balls; Wake boards.
I’m sure neither of these Google trademark holders would accept that you should only use “Google” when you?re actually referring to Google Inc. and its services. A trademark is only applicable to a certain defined type of Goods and Services. You can’t stop people using the same word for other goods and services not covered by the trademark.
The other issue is that Trademarks are in all cases, I believe, for Goods and Services. In other words, they’re nouns. If you are granted a trademark for a noun, does that prevent anyone else using that same word as a verb? Does that mean that anyone now using ball bearings for skateboards, fishing lures, snow shoes or stress relief balls is barred from using the word google as a verb to describe some part of their sporting activity. That googles, er sorry, boggles the mind.
Most commentators feel that Google has overreacted. In this Cluetrain Manifesto world, it may be better to go with the flow. Perhaps Google doesn’t need any extra publicity, but it surely doesn’t hurt. Only Google’s King Canute lawyers are attempting to stop the inevitable tide.
In my view, the big winner here may be Ask. Dropping the Jeeves was seen by some as a serious mistake. I always felt that Ask was the perfect name for what really is an extremely good search engine. The more people who mention Ask the better. .. and the battle for the verb was lost long before the Internet existed. The tag line for one of their competitors’ services, Google Answers, starts off ‘Ask a question’. The other major competitor names its service Ask Yahoo! When your competitors are forced to mention your Brand Name as they describe their services, what could be sweeter than that?