09 January 2010
Google toilet paper: How easily could Google wipe away other hangers-on?
The amusing discovery that a company in Vietnam is apparently exploiting the fame of Google to sell toilet paper raises the question: Could anyone use the name "Google" in Australia and get away with it?
Google Inc. currently has registered Australian trade marks for the word "google" and the colour combination used in the familiar Google logo in a number of Classes, covering (not surprisingly) a range of products and services related to online search, other computer hardware and software, email and other telecommunications services, and advertising via the internet.
Perhaps more suprisingly, Google Inc. also has trade marks for the word "google" in relation to: books; manuals; notebooks; notepads; pens; greeting cards; stickers; decals; sticky notes; clothing; footwear; headgear; charitable fundraising; financial services; and payment and billing services.
While (broadly interpreted) the registration in respect of stationery might make it difficult for someone to use the Google brand for toilet paper, it would be very interesting to see what would happen if someone tried to use the word "google" in relation to (say) peanut butter, beer, a taxi company or any number of other products and services outside the limited scope of the current trade mark registrations.
Google Inc. would no doubt kick up a stink and claim that the intention of such users was to leverage the value of their world-famous trade mark. And they would probably be right. But Google Inc. can't claim that it (i.e. founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin) invented the word "google", nor that they have exclusive rights to the word it in all its forms and uses.
In fact, publisher Hearst Holdings has a current Australian trade mark (registered in 1960) for "Barney Google & Snuffy Smith" in Class 16, which includes books, newspapers, magazines and stationery. As it turns out, according to this well-referenced Wikipedia article, newspaper comic strip character Barney Google is actually the original source of the word "google" and Page and Brin's use of the word can be traced back to that source. So Google Inc. might not have it all its own way.
Astonishingly, though, an individual based in South Australia is currently trying to register the word "googler" for a range of services related to online publishing, entertainment and blogging. Once Google Inc. gets wind of that application, I venture to suggest it might be worth less than a pack of Google toilet paper.