Google staves off gene­r­i­cide, avoid­ing fate of the yo-yo


No mat­ter how of­ten you in­voke a cer­tain In­ter­net search en­gine’s name when do­ing online re­search, Al­pha­bet Inc. still owns the brand.

That’s the up­shot of a fed­eral ap­peals court’s de­ci­sion Tues­day re­ject­ing the ar­gu­ment that Google has be­come so pop­u­lar as a verb that it should lose its sta­tus as a pro­tected trade­mark.

Gene­r­i­cide, as it’s known, is the curse of com­pa­nies whose brands gain such strong cur­rency in the mar­ket­place that they morph into prod­uct cat­e­gories. Think of es­ca­la­tor or yo-yo, but not Coke.

The fight over whether one of the world’s most valu­able brands should be de­clared generic started when a man named Chris Gille­spie in 2012 ac­quired 763 In­ter­net do­main names that in­cluded the word “google.” Af­ter Google filed an ob­jec­tion with the board that ref­er­ees do­main-name dis­putes and ac­cused Gille­spie of “cy­ber­squat­ting,” he and an­other man asked an Ari­zona fed­eral court to can­cel Google’s trade­mark on the grounds it’s a “generic term uni­ver­sally used to de­scribe the act of In­ter­net search­ing,” ac­cord­ing to court fil­ings.

The Ari­zona judge didn’t buy the ar­gu­ment, and on Tues­day, nei­ther did the U.S. Court of Ap­peals in San Fran­cisco.

The men didn’t present suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence that the pub­lic thinks of the word “google” pri­mar­ily as a generic name for In­ter­net search en­gines rather than as the brand of the Google search en­gine in par­tic­u­lar, the three-judge panel said.

“The mere fact that the pub­lic some­times uses a trade­mark as the name for a unique prod­uct does not im­me­di­ately ren­der the mark generic,” U.S. Cir­cuit Judge Richard Tall­man wrote for the panel.

Tall­man noted other house­hold names, in­clud­ing Coca-Cola Co., have beaten back ef­forts to have their brands de­clared un­pro­tected over the years. Coca-Cola won a 1982 trade­mark-in­fringe­ment case against a res­tau­rant that re­placed cus­tomer or­ders for “a coke” with a non-Coca-Cola bev­er­age.

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