What’s a generic term? Can we google it to find out?

By Debby Winters

This story of generics began because David Elliott and Chris Gillespie registered over 700 domain names that contained the word “google” plus the names of companies, products, people, places, etc. For example, they registered “googledisney.com,” “googlefit.com,” and “googlemexicocity.com.”  Their argument in Arizona federal court was that, because people use “google” as a verb meaning “to perform an internet search,” thus making the mark generic.  Google objected to this and won. That’s when Elliott And Gillespie countered by trying to get Google’s registrations for the GOOGLE trademark cancelled saying that it has become a generic term by filing papers asking the Supreme Court to consider whether the term “Google” has become generic.Google’s response was that even if people use the term generically as a verb, that doesn’t mean that it is generic for search engines.  The federal trademark law allows a registration to be cancelled when the mark “becomes the generic name for the goods or services . . . for which it is registered,” but as Google pointed out, its registrations cover “computer hardware; computer software for creating indexes of information, indexes of web sites and indexes of other information resources” and other, longer descriptions.  The point is that the registrations cover providing a search engine, not the act of searching the internet.  Because all of Elliott And Gillespie’s evidence went to the use of “google” as a verb rather than the use as the name of the goods and services Google’s mark is registered for, Google argued that the evidence didn’t prove anything about the real question in the case.  The district court in Arizona agreed and dismissed the case, and the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal.On Aug 14, 2017 Elliott And Gillespie prepared their last shot by filing a petition for writ of certiorari at the U.S. Supreme Court.  It will be a while before we know anything about whether the Court will even take the case.  The Court denies most petitions without even requesting a response from the other party.  But if the Court is at least somewhat interested, it will ask Google to file a response, and then determine whether to take the case.  Even if the Court decides to hear the case, that’s no guarantee that Elliott and Gillespie will win.  There’s a long way to go before we ditch the term “search engine” and officially start referring to the act of searching as “google.” If you want to keep up with what happens next in this case, continue to read this blog or just “google it!”

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