You may use the word “google” every time you need to look up how to bathe a hedgehog or look up the meaning of “Mamihlapinatapai” on the internet, but today the U.S. Supreme Court indicated that the term “google” is still a protected trademark.
The nation’s highest court declined Monday to review a petition filed by an enterprising businessman named Chris Gillespie, who had registered 763 domain names that included the word “google,” according to Ars Technica. When Google pointed out the trademark infringement, Gillespie claimed Google’s trademarks had become victims of “genericide.” Basically, he argued that “google” had become too generic—synonymous with the term “search the internet”—and should no longer qualify for trademark protection. He claimed that, “there is no single word other than google that conveys the action of searching the Internet using any search engine.”
The justices set aside the petition without comment, which means that for now anyway, Google will keep its trademark. However, there is a chance that at some point Google will become a victim of its own success and “google” could be deemed generic. It’s a fate that words like Kleenex, Xerox, bubble wrap, jet ski, dumpsters, windbreaker, adrenalin, even seeing eye dogs are desperately fighting against. But genericization is also something that has happened before, a lot. Words like trampoline, escalator, and aspirin were all trademarks once. Even heroin was a trademark that went generic (we’ll wait here while you Bing that).
Behold just a few of the many, many now-common words that were once the private property of a corporation.
Zip Code, formerly owned by the U.S. Postal Service
Teleprompter, trademarked by the TelePrompTer Company
Escalator, Otis Elevator Co. trademarked the term in 1900
Thermos, created by Sir James Dewar and put into commercial use by Thermos LLC.
Cellophane, chemist Jacques E. Brandenberger trademarked the term in 1912
Dry ice, owned by the DryIce Corporation
Aspirin, formerly owned by Bayer
Linoleum, Frederick Walton, the Linoleum inventor, never trademarked its mark when he first created it in 1864.
Zipper, originally registered by B.F. Goodrich