Life in Google's Copyright Cross Hairs

 
 
By Ben Charny  |  Posted 2006-05-29 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Despite a recent headline-grabbing trademark enforcement, Google seems to have settled on a live-and-let-live attitude about many of its chief trademark offenders, namely Web sites with names that sound like Google that offer Internet search. 

There are now seven of these Web locales, Boogle, Qoogle, Xoogle, Woogle, Loogle, Ooogle and Voogle, and they apparently operate unfettered.

Even more telling, two of those on the list, including Qoogle, were on the receiving end of aggressive action by Google about two years ago in order to force a name change.

"Nothing's happened since" the threats from Google in 2004, said a representative for Qoogle.

The existence of these particular sites is surprising given how valuable Google's brand name is. The word Google, which has become synonymous with conducting an Internet search, is arguably more important to Google than any technology it has created.

So given all that's riding on the name, one wouldn't expect Google to allow the brand to be "poisoned," as trademark insiders call it, by letting sites like Qoogle operate.

There are a couple of explanations as to why there are so many active search sites with names that sound like Google.

It's possible they haven't been noticed yet by Google's trademark cops. That's possible, given that Google's chief trademark counsel, Rose Hagan, said she wasn't aware of at least one of the -oogle search engines listed above.

But perhaps more plausible is that Google's actually taken a rather laid-back attitude with the sites, which usually generate very little traffic.

As Google's Hagan put it, the company must balance enforcing its trademark and being so aggressive that Google gets the reputation of "trying to own the double O."

And sometimes, possible trademark offenders drop out of the picture as quickly as they surface, the result of a kind of checks-and-balances system Google benefits from.

Consider Qoogle's Web site again. Last week, it changed from one featuring a search engine to one doling out an e-mail reminder service in the days after the site operator was interviewed by Google Watch.

Because a Qoogle representative stopped returning calls and e-mails after an initial interview, the reason for the change is open to speculation. But it's reasonable to assume the Qoogle operator was afraid the newfound attention in a news story would draw Google's eye again, and there'd be a new round of threats.

Others in Qoogle's position aren't so seemingly paranoid or willing to cave so quickly, which helps explain why there are at least a half-dozen such sites still around.

One example of this kind of damned-the-torpedoes view is Boogle, a Web site that serves up Google search results and adds its own touch with a randomly chosen quotation and graphic. In a way, it's just as much a target as Qoogle.

Yet, according to Philip Olson, Boogle's Web master, it's been radio silence from Google for a long while now.

Olson figures Boogle's going strong because "it might be seen as bad public relations to kill a simple little Web site that provides inspirational quotes and images" alongside search results.

Olson says he's not going to ask Google for permission now, for fear that Google may feel some obligation to shut him down.

Some holders of oogle domains are so bold as to think Google will be a future business partner.

If Google ever accuses Mac McDougald of infringing on the mighty Google trademark, the affable digital imagery equipment salesman can blame his last name.

His surname's a spelling nightmare. Most people forget to add the second, silent "d", and spell it gle, the more common way of ending the surname. His company, Doogle Photo, and Web address, www.doogle.com, are an homage to the quirks.

Even though he thinks he's done nothing wrong, McDougald's been anticipating a call from Google's trademark posse ever since he registered the domain eight years ago. As it turns out, he registered Doogle just 10 days after www.google.com was registered by Google's founders.

"Through the years, I've kind of thought about when they were going to call, especially when other domains had been approached," McDougald said recently.

"Google's welcome to contact me. I figure if they contact me and say I don't have a right to use Doogle.com, I'd get into a hissy fit and demand they buy the domain from me."

 
 
 
 
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