According to this article by Jonathan Duffy at BBC News Online, Google is taking vigorous legal action to keep people from listing “google” as a lower-case vocabulary item; their fear is, of course, that their trademark will go the way of escalator, pogo, gunk, heroin, and tabloid.
Paul McFedries, who runs the lexicography site Word Spy, received a stiffly worded letter from the firm after he added “google” to his online lexicon.
The company asked him to delete the definition or revise it to take account of the “trade mark status of Google”. He opted for the latter.
Google’s problem is one of the paradoxes of having a runaway successful brand. The bigger it gets, the more it becomes part of everyday English language and less a brand in its own right.
Just as we talk about “hoovering” instead of vacuuming, people have started to say “google” to mean search. The word has become an eponym.
At the end of the article comes this interesting twist:
In Britain people may feel they want to seize the opportunity for free speech while they still can. The verb “to google” has yet to take off on this side of the Atlantic, but it seems Brits could use it with impunity for the time being, says Liz Ward.
That’s because in Europe, at least, Google’s trade mark is still pending.
I imagine that in the near future dictionaries will follow Word Spy’s lead and include a note about the legal status of the word:
google (GOO.gul) v. To search for information on the Web, particularly by using the Google search engine; to search the Web for information related to a new or potential girlfriend or boyfriend. (Note that Google™ is a trademark identifying the search technology and services of Google Technologies Inc.)
(Thanks for the tip, Maureen! Oh, and I’d like to take this opportunity to note that Google™ is a trademark identifying the search technology and services of Google Technologies Inc. And I’d also like to point out that my Google™ hits have dropped to almost nothing since I switched from Blogger to MT. Could this have anything to do with the fact that Google™ bought Blogger? You be the judge.)