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The Genericide of Google

Talking of humour (previous ‘irony’ post), it may seem to many that Google have recently been lacking their sense of it after it emerged that they have been setting their ‘brand police’ on a number of publishers and dictionaries who use their name as a verb! This may seem a bit over-the-top, but in reality it is common practice – Google must protect its usage to protect its trademark.

When “Google” entered the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary earlier this year, the Washington Post noted that the word is becoming a descriptor for the search sector as a whole. You have probably misused the word too, saying something like “I found out when I googled it yesterday”.

On this subject, Google wrote that they must avoid what they call “genericide”. This occurs when a trademark becomes synonymous with a group of products – it is the generic name for that commodity – and as such its brand is taken off the trademark register and the company is left without rights. Then we could start googling at Yahoo or Microsoft!

Google is not alone in writing to the media, worrying about genericide: Hoover, Perspex, Portakabin, Frisbee and Jacuzzi (and Band-Aid, Kleenex and Xerox in America) are all still registered trademarks that already seem like a generic name for a type of product.

Escalator, cellophane, pogo and many more common ‘items’ are all past victims of genericide whose trademarks were long ago struck off the register. More recently, Sony too have been told that Walkman is no longer a trademark after losing a legal battle with an Austrian company after they labelled rival personal stereos as Walkmans. Now the Concise Oxford English Dictionary has defined Walkman as a noun, without reference to Sony.

Getting your brand into everyone’s vocabulary might seem like the ultimate accolade, but it is dangerous.

Washington Post Article
1 | 2 – Lists of misused and lost trademarks – You’ll be surprised at some of them (heroin and petrol at least – they were medications!).