BMW Apparently Concerned That New Google Holding Company 'Alphabet' Infringes On Its Trademark

from the morons-in-a-hurry dept

You kind of had to know this was coming in some form or another. With the surprise announcement that Google was creating a holding company called Alphabet and effectively “breaking” off pieces of Google (all under the same holding company), there had to be trademark disputes coming. Alphabet is such a common word and used in lots of business names. A quick search of the US Patent and Trademark Office’s word mark search shows 123 “live” trademarks that include “alphabet” in some manner or another. And so it should come as little surprise that Reuters is reporting that car giant BMW is already considering if Google’s Alphabet infringes on its own Alphabet, which is a service company working with vehicle fleets for corporate customers.

And, the NY Times reports that others are concerned as well:

The name isn?t just causing waves with BMW. On Wall Street, there is an Alphabet Funds. Lots of midsize and small companies also use the name Alphabet. There is an Alphabet Energy in Hayward, Calif.; an Alphabet Record Company in Austin, Tex.; an Alphabet Plumbing in Prescott, Ariz.; and numerous preschools, inns and restaurants with some variation of the name.

Of course, this may just be posturing. While you can argue that, yes, Alphabet/Google has its self-driving cars project, Alphabet itself is just a holding company. And you’d be hard pressed to argue that there was (a) any real overlap in the goods and services or (b) likelihood of confusion between the BMW subsidiary and the Google’s new holding company. In fact, the “Alphabet Funds” operation might actually have slightly more of a case, in arguing that there is at least the possibility of some confusion, even if the likelihood is pretty weak.

Either way, it’s not sure any of this really matters. If Google gets too concerned about it, there isn’t much of a reason it can’t just change the name again, as Alphabet is kind of meaningless. Hell, it might as well just call it since that’s the domain it has. Of course, a quick trademark search shows nearly 500 registrations with ABC, so maybe that’s not perfect either….

Filed Under: , ,
Companies: alphabet, bmw, google

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “BMW Apparently Concerned That New Google Holding Company 'Alphabet' Infringes On Its Trademark”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

There is some reason to be concerned. Alphabet/Google will want to diversify their products as much as they can. That’s pretty much the reason for making a new company – so Google can stay focused on the search/internet side of things. What about Alphabet self-driving cars? Don’t you think someone could get that confused with BMW’s service? What if they invest in a liquid-thorium reactor. Pretty awesome, but now Alphabet is in the energy business.

The difference really comes down to the fact that the other ones are companies in specific fields, but Alphabet/Google is a generic catch-all umbrella corporation.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re:

As Techdirt frequently points out when bullies abuse trademarks, the point of trademark law is not to protect the company or their “intellectual property,” but to prevent customer confusion.

That being the case, when a company becomes so big that its very name is iconic, the opportunity for customer confusion is everywhere, even if it’s a preexisting word. So I can kind of see both sides of this.

“Facebook” used to be another word for “yearbook,” but today, it means the 800-lb gorilla of social networking. Be honest: if you were driving around downtown and you saw a little place called Facebook Pizza, or Google Brake & Muffler… wouldn’t you wonder, at least a little?

It sounds silly, but now a company with all-encompassing name recognition power like that is laying claim to a name that a lot of small businesses are using. Seems to me they have a very legitimate reason to worry about customer confusion.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why are,nt bmw concerned about the other companys using the alphabet name ,
Google is using alphabet as a holding company .
is some idiot gonna phone google and ask them to sell
me a car or rent me a truck.
do Googles lawyers not know take a common word as a name of a company there,ll be other companys with that name .
There was no confusion between the beatles company ,
apple records and apple computers as at that time
apple computers co was not involved in music business .
It.s not practical to expect every company to have a
unique name .
Maybe companys should not be allowed trademark
a common word like alphabet .

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I’m not sure of your point, since 2 of your 3 examples aren’t dictionary words (or aren’t in their usage or origin anyway). Maybe try stating your point instead of listing words?

Windows has worked as a trademark for Microsoft largely because there’s no danger of people confusing a software product with a pane of glass and so lawsuit threats haven’t been so heavy there. As far as I’m aware anyway, I’m sure there’s examples of Microsoft attacking companies using the word – and if so, those lawsuits would have been unnecessary if a dictionary word was not chosen, which was my point.

Apple have tried protecting their naming convention, but it’s backfired on them a number of times. Not least several lawsuits from Cisco, who already had products named iPhone and IOS in the marketplace before Apple named their product. Either side could have avoided these issue by not simply trying to stick a letter in front of existing words, which was kind of my point.

As for Kleenex? The dictionary word came from the trademark, not the other way around. It’s a good example of why these companies are ridiculously protective of their trademarks to stop them becoming generic. But, surely that’s a good reason why they should not be picking dictionary words in the first place?

Anonymous Coward says:

Has Mike been replaced with an alien? This came off like you were just blindly defending Google or something.

How many trademark lawsuits have we heard about on this website now that involve big companies stomping all over small ones for trademark ‘violations’ for prodcuts that could ‘t possibly be confused? That happens all the time. Look at Elder Scrolls suing Mojang over a single word, or Candy Crush suing Banner Saga. . . Over a single word as well. This happens ALL the time. Of cource these companies should be concerned.

Is it dumb that they need to be? Of course. Do these lawsuits require some sort of bizzarre mental gymnastics? Of course. But the reality is they happen all the time, and much of the time, they either win or end up settling.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Re:

involve big companies stomping all over small ones for trademark ‘violations’ for prodcuts that could ‘t possibly be confused?

While Google isn’t small, BMW is certainly a large company whining about something that could never be confused with how Google is using the very common word ‘alphabet’.

But the reality is they happen all the time, and much of the time, they either win or end up settling.

Yes, that’s the problem. It’s just a waste of both Google’s and BMW’s time and money. The only ones that win are the lawyers. The point of the story: everyone stop being stupid and rein in the lawyers.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Has Mike been replaced with an alien? This came off like you were just blindly defending Google or something.”

If you’re so inclined, ACs do tend to think Mike is doing that all the time. Even in articles where he’s criticising them. How exactly would you have liked the observation that companies are immediately looking to attack Google using trademark law to be worded in order to not look like a defence of the company?

“This happens ALL the time. Of cource these companies should be concerned.”

Yet, at least 103 of them managed to co-exist without this happening until Google opted to use a common word as a name.

Are there any instances of Google actually abusing trademarks like the examples you cited, or is this just a case of people pre-emptively shitting their pants based on what they imagine Google might do?

If the latter, then Mike’s criticism is sound and, let’s face it, there’s probably no other word that Google could have chosen without getting the same reaction from somewhere.

Sheogorath (profile) says:

Re: Re:

FYI, Bethesda Softworks (not ‘Elder Scrolls’) filed for declaratory judgement to prevent Mojang trademarking the word ‘Scrolls’ on its own on the basis that this would prevent other developers (Bethsoft had established use on its side) from using the word at all in titles of future games. So this did look like David vs. Goliath in the beginning, but it was actually Goliath vs. Cyclops, with Goliath fighting to protect David. Just so you know. 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

out of curiosity, what problems did those other companies have that are using ‘Alphabet’ in their name of whatever? did they get sued? did they have to change the name from something else? did they have to pay to those who already had the name? if not, why kick up over this? why not just think themselves lucky that they didn’t have to do anything and then ‘shut the fuck up?’

Monday (profile) says:

What's in a name?

Same can be said about Band-Aid. The name is the brand, not the product. You don’t send a mate to the store for some sterile plastic adhesive strips, you ask them to get some band-aids “while your there.” The confusion starts at the shelves – sooo many different makers of sterile plastic adhesive strips – I mean Band-aids.
Same thing with something as ubiquitous as ‘2 for 1’ Pizza. Somebody, somewhere started that whole ‘2 For 1’ thing. They could be owed millions, but most pizza joints use it, and I for one never confuse 2 for 1 Pizza with Suit sales.

It’s a pretty ridiculous hypothetical, and yes, everybody seems to be getting along just fine… at the moment 🙂

GEMont (profile) says:

Andusocalin Marfisoludicus Incorporated

I know!

GOOGLE should call the Holding Company GIGGLE.

Surely nobody has named their company Giggle…. yet!!

Regardless, with copyright laws the way they are today, the only way anyone will be able to name a company without infringing on some other similar brand, is to start using Meaningless Letter Jumbles – like The Refdosputy Company, or Nodfuskin Borthux Inc.

Copyright is to innovation, what a virus is to computers.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...