Is Google in danger of losing its valuable trademark?

IP Value Wire recently wrote of Millward Brown’s recent valuation of the top global brands, and Google’s #2 position at $113.7B. Yesterday a talking head on a news program suggested that listeners “Google” a story to check it out for themselves. Has the Google trademark been transformed into a verb, now in common usage? Is Google in danger of losing a $100B asset?

Dry ice, cellophane, aspirin, thermos, zipper, etc., lead a long list of trademarks that through common usage were declared generic in the United States, thereby losing their trademark status.  Xerox is in the Oxford dictionary as a verb. Brand names can become generic when they are so commonly used that people associate the brand name for every product of that type regardless of who manufacturers it. A trademark becomes synonymous with a product, or, in Google’s case, a process. The process of performing an internet search is rapidly becoming “Googling.”

Tom Parrette’s classic article in Ads of the World lists strategies a company can use to protect their trademarks.

  1. Use a generic descriptor as a tag to the trademark. Parrette’s example is “Jello brand gelatin,” where Jello is paired with its own generic terms;
  2. Never use a brand in a generic sense; avoid making it a plural or adding a possessive;
  3. Direct others on how to use a brand, including when to include the ®;
  4. Publicize and reinforce a substitute term. Xerox was a little late in their efforts to do this; their substitute word was photocopy, and the U.S. was inundated with advertisements explaining the difference between photocopy and Xerox.
Google has been making some efforts to encourage the use of the substitute “search.” Will it be enough?