Even though Alphabet has been announced to become the new mom of Google, Larry Page, the tech giant’s chief executive, made sure that Google stays Google.
According to his blog post, “G is for Google” – others would argue that G also stands for genericization. Webster defines it as the process of becoming generic or “not under a particular brand name.” And it’s more than just a matter of linguistic for Google and its shareholders.
Forbes magazine lists Google as the third most profitable brand in the world – after Apple and Microsoft – with an estimated value of $66 billion. When you’re playing at that level, protecting your trademark becomes a full-time job, and not just in court.
It’s true there is not imminent danger for Google to lose trademark protection, but its popularity has definitely helped it enter mainstream English; we’re googling all the time, aren’t we, and the capitalized G has swiftly inserted in our everyday vocabulary.
The long-run danger is joining the consistent list of products that have moved from trademark names to generic ones, such as thermos, aspirin, dry ice and escalator. All of these – and many others – were once highly-recognized brand names, but entering mainstream vernacular made them lose their legal position as protected trademarks.
Ironically, even Webster’s itself has been touched by the genericization phenomenon, becoming a frequently used synonym for dictionary. In spite of the fact that Encyclopaedia Britannica has the owning rights for the name, anybody can use it without fearing copyright infringement claims.
There are, however, some corporate owners with more zealous policies still clinging by their bare teeth to their protected trademark status. Kleenex (owned by Kimberly-Clark) and Band-Aid (Johnson & Johnson) aren’t fully genericized yet, but according to Grant Barrett, lexicographer and word-enthusiast, it’s only a matter of time before they’ll say goodbye to their capitalized brand name.
A quick browsing of the words we use most in this highly-digitalized era also reveals plenty of other examples of brands facing similar issues; think about Skype, FedEx or Photoshop – we have been using them as generic verbs for so long now that we tend to forget they are originally brand names.
But nothing tops Google’s speed toward genericization, or at least that’s what linguistics experts say. The word ‘google’ comes from a mathematical term – googol is the numeral one followed by 100 zeros. Back in 1997, the company registered it as a domain name, and a mere year later, its first known use as a part of speech occurred.
Wondering who said it? It was Larry Page himself who emailed new features of the search engine with the phrase “Have fun and keep googling!”
Image Source: LinkedIn