Google Threatens 9to5Google Over Trademark, Rescinds Threat, Leaves Everyone Frightened

from the just-a-little-evil dept

If you correct for company size, Google is generally pretty decent on intellectual property matters. But, hey, I guess no corporation is perfect. The company whose motto is “don’t be evil” is, of course, very big. And they certainly have a very big legal team. I think it might be time for that legal team to get a quick primer on the wider culture at Google and do a quick review on the company motto, because those lawyers apparently suddenly decided that a news site, called 9to5Google, was suddenly violating Google’s trademark after a scant five full years in operation.

The threat device Google decided to employ in this case was the news site’s use of Google’s Doubleclick/Ad Exchange network, which the site claims is a decent profit center for 9to5Google. There had apparently been occasional blips of the network not working in the past, all of which had been quickly resolved. Not the case this time, however.

But this time was different. We have learned that Google’s Public Policy Team has decided that, after 5 years of publishing under the 9to5Google name, we have been violating their trademark. Sure we’re on Google+, News, Apps, Ads and just about everything else Google as 9to5Google but I guess something changed.

We are a news site dedicated to covering Google, not trying to masquerade as Google, so we’re appealing this decision (and if you know anyone at Google please have them run this up the ladder). But there is a big chance we’ll have to change our name. Obviously we’ll do a redirect so you can enter in your browser and shouldn’t have to update your bookmarks feeds or Twitter or anything.

The post notes that there was never any real hostility between them and Google in the past, so it seems pretty clear this was the legal team suddenly becoming aware of something that was not and had never been a problem in the past, and then making it a problem for whatever reason. It seems clear that the news site had never attempted to pass itself off as a wing of Google and it’s difficult to think of another name for a news site that specifically covers Google that wouldn’t include Google’s name.

Fortunately, it appears the Google Gods changed their minds.

Update: A Google rep now tells us: Our Policy Team has taken another look at this and decided to reinstate ad serving to your site. No further action is needed. Please reach out if you still have any issues with ads on your site.

So we’re back..for now – but obviously we’re exposed and it might make sense to make a change anyway. Stay tuned.

And that’s where the harm and the tad bit of evil comes in: just the threat of exposure of a trademark issue between a massive company like Google and a small news site is likely going to result in the news site changing its name, even as the company walks back the threat. I can completely understand how this happens, but I can also understand the chill that must still be working its way down the spines of the folks running 9to5Google. And that sucks.

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Comments on “Google Threatens 9to5Google Over Trademark, Rescinds Threat, Leaves Everyone Frightened”

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Anon says:

In all fairness...

Calling themselves “9to5Google” does imply an affiliation with Google. I had never heard of this group before this article, and the headline made it sound like Google was going legal on one of their own websites, which sounded pretty stupid. So I can see Google Legal going after them for consumer confusion.

All that being said, it’s not like a multibillion dollar corporation needs to be a trademark bully. Just license the name for free and be done with it.(And waiting for 5 YEARS before making this an issue is pretty asinine.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: In all fairness...

There’s a bunch of Apple-related websites that have Apple or Mac in their name and Apple has never gone after them (at least not for trademarks). There’s even one called 9to5Mac, which, you guessed it, is run by the same people running 9to5Google. Just face it, Google fucked up here. They backtracked. All is good.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: In all fairness...

Calling themselves “9to5Google” does imply an affiliation with Google.

If all you hear is the name of the site, perhaps. But I think any trademark action would have to take the context into account – how is the name being used? I haven’t looked, but it sounds like it’s clear that the name is used to describe the purpose of the web site – reporting on Google. And that doesn’t imply any affiliation.

radix (profile) says:

Hardly evil

a) “Google” isn’t some generic term that just happens to be used by a tech giant like “Apple” is. Using that very specific term might imply some relationship between the two.
b) The ONLY thing covered on the site is news regarding Google.
c) The site’s logo, while using different colors, seems to use a similar font as the official Google logo.

It’s no great leap to think that somebody unfamiliar with the site, and visiting for the first time, might be confused about the source of the content.
The initial inquiry certainly could be considered unnecessary, given the limited reach of this site, but hardly evil.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Hardly evil

c) The site’s logo, while using different colors, seems to use a similar font as the official Google logo.

… as would most other sans-serif fonts in common use.

On the other hand,
1) the “9to5” in front of the word “google”
2) the clock hands inside the ‘o’ of said “9to5”
3) and the use of two colors (one for “9to5”, one for “google”)

serve to differentiate their logo from that of google. The presence of other “9to5” links also serves to distinguish the “9to5” as a common theme at least, and indication of a separate trademark.

Also, the presence of items other than the logo and search box were a definite tip that this was not the google front page.

What, Google News? Different domain, multicolored logo, google “sign in” button. Nope. In order to confuse the two, you’d need to have seen the 9to5 site for less than 15 seconds.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Did one of them actually claim with a straight face that he does this now and then to throw us off from the fact that he’s a google shill, or was that a parody comment?

Pretty sure it’s the former. Though it could have been anywhere from average_joe’s usual useless walls of tripe, or Anonymous64 screaming “ANOMALY!” at the top of his lungs.

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