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21.08.2006 available in germanavailable in english

MarkenThema

Generic Concepts: Trademark Lawyers influence Dictionary Entries
Google and Apple contest the fight over trademark protection for ‘to google’ and ‘pod’

In the struggle over their trademark rights  two global players are pulling out all the stops at the moment. While the Internet search machine, according to reports in the german newspaper ‘Die Welt’, would like to oust the phrase ‘to google’ from everyday language,  the computer firm Apple is battling over the concept ‘pod’ according to a report in the Financial Times. The background to all this lies in the fact that trademarks can lose their protection if they become generic concepts (as we have reported).

In the past prominent newspapers have been the lucky recipients of correspondence from Google, and editors of dictionaries are being treated in the same way - the phrase ‘to google’ should not be used any more in the sense of searching the Internet. To be more precise, in German you might have to say instead something like  ‘Ich habe eine Google-Nachfrage gestartet’ or, in English, something like‘ I ran a Google Search’. In the German Duden in the meanwhile the phrase has become defined exactly as in the British ‘Oxford English Dictionary’ and the American Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

At the ‘request’ of the Internet giant, in their recent 24th edition Duden have modified their definition which originally ran as ’to search the Internet, especially via Google’. Now it says ‘to search the Internet using Google’. The Duden entry for the actual word ‘Google’ on the other hand leaves no doubt as to its trademark aspects - it is supplied with an ‘r’ in a circle. Duden would have yielded to the request for an alteration of the entry  in order to avoid any legal action,. say the editorial team. Such requests do occur from time to time . From the legal point of view, Google’s appeal is completely comprehensible - in decisions to do with generic concepts, dictionaries can be used as a weighty argument.

The consequences for future trademark activity. the linguistic authority of dictionaries, especially Duden, must come to be viewed with uncertainty. When trademark lawyers can influence dictionary definitions and a dictionary editor can permit an alteration of a definition, the believability of  language bibles is bound to suffer. ‘ When in doubt, I would rather prefer to omit such entries from dictionaries, because a dictionary is not assigned with the task of providing advertising for trademarks’, said the head of Duden’s editorial team, Matthias Wermke, to the Financial Times..

In its action against the infra-red scanner ‘Profit Pod’ and the protective coverings for electronic gadgets ‘TightPod’,  Apple has been beating a traditional path  and sent injunctions  to the infringers. What this makes clear is that the brand iPod  will be closely monitoring and cautioning. In the case of  ‘Profit Pod’, an injunction fluttered in shortly after the publication of the product name in the US Trademark Register. Whether the concept ‘Pod’ will follow a similar Duden career path is uncertain at the moment. It seems to be just as popular, as shown by the prevalence of podcasting which is so trendy at the moment.

rmb / tos

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