According to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, Google hasn’t committed “genericide.” Although people have used the term “google,” referring to searching online, for almost 20 years, that doesn’t invalidate the company’s trademark.
The legal dispute began when an individual by the name of Chris Gillespie, registered hundreds of domains that contained the word “google,” such as googledisney.com, in roughly 2012. In order to protect its trademark, Google objected, and the case went to arbitration.
The arbitration panel ended up awarding all 700+ domains that Gillespie had registered to Google. In effect, Gillespie and David Elliot, another individual, sued in federal court in Pheonix. They argued that the term “google” had become a verb and had become generic and no longer entitled to trademark protection.
When you look at terms like escalator, aspirin, or zipper, they all have become generic terms over time, even though they were all trademarks at one point. But, the process isn’t inevitable; it’s usually the function of the trademark owner not sufficiently protecting its mark.
The court ruled that it wasn’t sufficient for Gillespie and Elliot to show that people used google as a verb, and that people knew that the term was simply a replacement for search engines in general. Accordingly, the usage of a trademark term as a verb int he culture doesn’t automatically mean that it constitutes a generic use:
We agree that Elliott has failed to present sufficient evidence to support a jury finding that the relevant public primarily understands the word “google” as a generic name for internet search engines and not as a mark identifying the Google search engine in particular.