Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Only Way to Google This Post

...is to search using the Google search page, at least according to Google themselves.

The LA Times recently ran a story on the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary adding the word "google" to the 11th edition of the dictionary. The article focuses on the trademark concerns that arise when a brand name starts to creep into everyday use as a generic word. Everyone has asked for a "Kleenex" or to have something "Xeroxed" without caring what type of tissue paper they got or if the copy was made on a Ricoh. And now Google is concerned over the usage of "google" as a verb, because a trademark that becomes genericized is not necessarily afforded the same legal protection (see "aspirin" or "escalator").

As cited in the article, Google's 2005 annual report focuses on this danger:
We also face risks associated with our trademarks. For example, there is a risk that the word “Google” could become so commonly used that it becomes synonymous with the word “search.” If this happens, we could lose protection for this trademark, which could result in other people using the word “Google” to refer to their own products, thus diminishing our brand.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary does reference the word as being derived from Google, though it's not clear from the article (I haven't seen the dictionary) if the word is defined as "searching the internet" or "searching the internet using the Google search engine." I imagine that this distinction would be very important in determining if the word is a generic one, or specific to the brand. Interestingly, the Oxford English dictionary has added "Google" (capitalized) as a word in its most recent addition. I think the capitalization of the word certainly suggests much more strongly that usage of the brand is implied in the usage of the word.

That said, it is a nice problem to have. I'm sure that ex ante Google would gladly accept the problem of their brandname being in danger of becoming a generic verb used by everyone over being specific to a product that nobody uses. Of course, becoming a generic word does not necessarily mean that you've dominated your market. Tivo, for example, has been fighting a similar problem, and they haven't dominated anything, except for linguistic usage.

Perhaps the guys at Language Log will chime in at some point; I searched over there quickly and didn't find a posting on "google" as a dictionary word. What was interesting to me, though, was that they seem to use "searched on Google" or "used Google" rather than "googled." See here and here.

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