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SCOTUS to Consider Whether Google Trademark is Generic

By William Vogeler, Esq. on August 28, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Where is Humpty Dumpty when the U.S. Supreme Court needs him?

While the Court is in recess, the most egg-cellent arbiter could handle at least one new case. The case is about whether Google can keep its trademark for a word that also means "to search the internet."

"When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less," Humpty Dumpty told Alice scornfully.

With or without the scorn, the Court could say as much in Elliott v. Google. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals already did.

"Google" v. "google"

In the case by David Elliott and Chris Gillespie, they argued that Google's trademark expired because "google" had become a verb.

The Ninth Circuit said trademarked names can lose their proprietary meaning by "genericide" when they become generic terms. For example, "aspirin," "cellophane," and "thermos" were once trademarked names that are now used to describe generic products.

Google, however, argued that its trademark was for a business name and not a term for search engines. "Google" means the company, and the public understands the difference between it and "google."

The appeals court agreed, and the petitioners filed for Supreme Court review.

No Single Word

The Ninth Circuit had turned them down partly because "google" was not an "exclusive descriptor." So in the Supreme Court, the petitioners argue that "no other single word" means "to search the internet."

It puts a slightly different spin on an old story, as the case started in 2012 when Gillespie registered 763 domain names that combined "google" with other phrases. Google filed a cybersquatting complaint and won.

The petitioners then sued to invalidate the trademark, but the trial court and the appeals court ruled against them.

Forbes, reporting on the decision, said "Google" is one of the most valuable trademarks in the world. That's what Humpty Dumpty was talking about.

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