Google’s fight against genericide

When a company’s brand becomes so successful that their brand name turns into a generic term — like Xerox or Aspirin — I would have thought that such companies would welcome this measure of brand dominance.

Apparently not.

Google, like many companies before, has its legal jackboots marching around the world trying to police where and how people use the word google and its variants. In the latest instance, it wants to dictate how Swedes define “ogooglebar”.

Wall Street Journal: The global war over trademarks has pitted two heavyweights – Sweden and Google – against each other in a language-related spat. And, it appears the search engine has the upper hand.

Google, the increasingly pervasive search engine and Web service provider, has apparently weighed in on Sweden’s right to formalize the word “ogooglebar,” or “ungoogleable.” According to the Swedish Language Council, the government agency was pressured by Google to remove it from a list of new words because of copyright concerns.

The issue stems back to the council’s decision last year to include “ogooglebar” on the list alongside other Swedish neologisms, including “emoji” (an animated symbol used to express emotions in electronic text); “grexit” (Greece’s potential exit from the euro zone); and “kopimism” (a religious and political ideology focused on freedom of information.)

“Ogooglebar” refers to something “impossible to find on the Internet using a search engine,” according to the agency. Google sought to have the definition clarified so that it directly relates to the Google search tool, not just any search engine.

Rather than haggle over the definition, the council decided this week to remove the word from the list. But the word isn’t dying a quiet death.

“We neither have the time nor the will to pursue the outdrawn process that Google is trying to start,” the council’s president Ann Cederberg said in a harshly worded article posted on the council’s web site, under the headline “Google doesn’t own the language!”

In a statement, Google said: While Google, like many businesses, takes routine steps to protect our trademark, we are pleased that users connect the Google name with great search results.”

So who does own the language? According to the Swedes, its users.

“If we want ‘ogooglebar’ in the language, we should use it, and it is our usage which determines the meaning, not a multinational company with its means of pressure,” Ms. Cederberg said.

It turns out the Merriam-Webster is much more willing to kowtow to corporate dictates. It defines the verb “google”: “to use the Google search engine to obtain information about (as a person) on the World Wide Web.”

I guess whenever googling falls short, it’s always worth trying a bing.

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