July 11, 2006

It was announced last week that the word google is being added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, not as an upper-case noun to refer to the widely-used search engine, but as a lower-case verb. Along with the words biodiesel (“a fuel that is similar to diesel fuel and is derived from usually vegetable sources (as soybean oil)”), mouse potato (“a person who spends a great deal of time using a computer”), unibrow (“a single continuous brow resulting from the growing together of eyebrows”), ringtone (“the sound made by a cell phone to signal an incoming call”), and about 100 others, the word google is being added to the newest version of the dictionary. Although the word google is not included in Merriam-Webster’s recent news release on its website, the word is currently available on its web-based dictionary, defined as “to use the Google search engine to obtain information about (as a person) on the World Wide Web.” According to CNET, “[b]ecoming synonymous with an invention may hold a certain amount of historic glory for a company, but ubiquitous use of the company's name to describe something can make it harder to enforce a trademark.” The CNET article also mentions that “Bayer lost Aspirin as a U.S. trademark in 1921 after it was determined that the abbreviation for acetylsalicylic acid had become a generic term” and that “[t]he trademarks Band-Aid, Kleenex, Rollerblade and Xerox have had similar issues.” Google Inc. has several registered trademarks for the word “GOOGLE,” and also has a number of pending marks, including “GOOGLE TALK” and “GOOGLE CHECKOUT.” I note that the Merriam-Webster dictionary is not the first to include the word google, as the Oxford English Dictionary added the word Google (upper-case) on June 15th of this year, also as a verb, defined as “[t]o use the Google search engine to find information on the Internet” and “[t]o search for information about (a person or thing) using the Google search engine.” So now, when someone refers to me as a mouse potato with a unibrow who googles for ringtone websites, we will all know what those terms mean.

CNET News Article: LINK
Merriam-Webster New Words Release: LINK
Merriam-Webster Definition of “google”: LINK
Search Engine Journal Article: LINK

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Mark Reichel
Reichel IP LLC

I am a patent attorney with Reichel IP LLC, where I concentrate my practice on patent drafting and prosecution, trademarks, and general intellectual property matters. I currently focus on the preparation and prosecution of medical device and other life sciences patent applications, and being actively involved in a number of local not-for-profit organizations.

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