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Google to be Sued Over Name? 800

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the ludicrous-lawsuits-for-everyone dept.
WK writes "Now that Google's IPO is running, the company is on the verge of being sued by the family of Professor Edward Kasner who invented the word 'Googol' to describe a very big number. The great-niece of Kasner who was 4 years old at the time her uncle died says that although Google has brought attention to the name, it has not brought attention to Kasner's work. Google was not using the concepts, but just capitalizing on the name."
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Google to be Sued Over Name?

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  • Baaahhh.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by microbob (29155) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @08:57AM (#9182208)
    Give me a frigging break! Had "google.com" sucked rocks you wouldn't be saying a word.

    Now that google.com is just about to IPO you come crawling out of the wood work.

    Go back home...

    -mb

    • Re:Baaahhh.... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by savagedome (742194) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @09:00AM (#9182244)
      I agree completely. If google.com was a fly-by-night dot com, we would not even have known of this family's existence.

      they want to become IPO insiders to put his soul to rest.

      This statement is so repulsive that it would leave a bad taste for the rest of the day.
      • Re:Baaahhh.... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by GileadGreene (539584) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @09:21AM (#9182510) Homepage
        they want to become IPO insiders to put his soul to rest

        Uh... ignoring for a moment that raw cynicism inherent in that statement, isn't Google running a Dutch Auction IPO partly as a way of eliminating the whole insider/outsider dichotomy? (and partly has a way to make much more money) So the family can't become "insiders" because there won't be any insiders.

        Hmmm... perhaps they just mean they want to be given shares of the company pre-IPO (not an "insider" in the traditional IPO sense). That seems even more greedy and cynical to me - there's no gamble involved at all on their part.

        • Re:Baaahhh.... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by drakaan (688386) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @11:05AM (#9183686) Homepage Journal
          What really kills me is that Google has acknowledged that their name is a play on the word "googol" since they first appeared. I guess the interested parties never did a google search for Googol [google.com] (which actually brings up a link for http://www.googol.com [googol.com]...not suing *them*, are they?), or looked at the company's history [google.com] page.
          • Re:Baaahhh.... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Jim Starx (752545) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <xratSJ>> on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @11:16AM (#9183811)
            Why can you even sue over this? If it's a mathmatical concept it should be public domain. It's the equivilent of suing someone over using the word dozen. You can't trademark a quantity can you??
            • by booch (4157) <slashdot2010.craigbuchek@com> on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @12:44PM (#9184846) Homepage
              During lawsuits between Intel and AMD over the 486, the courts ruled that a number cannot be trademarked. That's why Intel's next chip was called the Pentium, not the 586. (Intel also named the later 486 chips "i486".) This is also why Google chose to NOT use the name "googol", because they wouldn't be able to trademark that.

              There's also the issue of scope. A trademark does not usually apply to everything, but to a limited area. If the areas of use are distinct and unlikely to cause confusion, the same name can be used by different companies. That's why Apple Records and Apple Computer were able to coexist (until iPod and iTunes came along -- expect some serious friction coming from these two). A search site and a number are unlikely to be confused.

              Finally there is the issue of asserting ownership. Trademarks can be lost if they are not used or enforced. The usual examples of companies on the verge of losing their trademarks due to non-enforcement are Xerox and Kleenex. The family has allowed (you might even say encouraged) the term googol to be used by the mathematics community for decades. To now assert that the word should be reserved for only "authorized" use is ridiculous.
        • Re:Baaahhh.... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by nelsonal (549144) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @11:05AM (#9183691) Journal
          Except that Google's founders will control super voting stock which makes them the ultimate "insiders". Depending on how many shares are offered, they will likely have 90% of the voting rights of the company's total offering. Most of the time, this class of stock is non dilutive, unless the owners agree to let their vote be diluted. So even if they grant 100,000,000 options a year, they keep the same percentage of control over directors, board meetings, and other strategic decisions.
        • Re:Baaahhh.... (Score:4, Informative)

          by Glonoinha (587375) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @11:10AM (#9183750) Journal
          The way I understand it they aren't doing it to 'make more money.' The powers that be have (FTC?) authorized Google to go public assuming a certain valuation of the company as a whole, so instead of picking the number of shares and coming up with IPO price, they are determining via Dutch Auction the share price and coming up with the number of shares (and selling those shares to the top guys in the Dutch Auction.)

          And yes, it pretty much eliminates insiders, which is the coolest thing I have ever heard of - unless I get to be an insider too, like the googol folks.
      • Re:Baaahhh.... (Score:5, Informative)

        by Mr. Neutron (3115) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @10:14AM (#9183107) Homepage Journal
        I agree completely. If google.com was a fly-by-night dot com, we would not even have known of this family's existence.

        Except in just about every 6th-grade-level math book, which tell the story of how Professor Kasner asked his 9-year-old nephew to come up with a word for a one followed by one hundred zeroes.

        Not saying this lawsuit has any grounds, but the origins of "googol" are well known.

    • by TheGavster (774657) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @09:14AM (#9182419) Homepage
      I mean, Google's success *must* have been due to the name. I know that the relevant results and inoffensive advertising mean nothing to me in comparison to the fact that its called Google!
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @09:16AM (#9182447)
      Well I remember as a child running through the Austrian snow one January and shouting Yahooooooooooooo! So I think I'll be finding myself a bod damned lawyer and suing the asses off those Yahoo! guys. Oh, am I gonna be rich!

      Oh yeah, and you bastards from alta (la) vista should be quaking in your boots. I'm in my hummer right now.

      Ahnolt.
    • Re:Baaahhh.... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Mick Ohrberg (744441) <mick.ohrberg@gma ... com minus author> on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @09:33AM (#9182649) Homepage Journal
      Sounds to me like another MikeRoweSoft.com [slashdot.org] - except the other way around. Or something.
    • Google clearly has capitalized on the name Google, and should be happy to share some of its irrational success by benefitting the people from which it has benefitted.

      Yes - they could have used a different name - but they chose this man, his work, and his word to christen their enterprize.

      Decency recommends that they show some loyal tribute in return.

      I don't know for how much she is asking - but the complaint to some extent looks to raise the question of the man's work into - Very large numbers.

      Google sh
  • Are you serious? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kulaid982 (704089) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @08:57AM (#9182211)

    "googol" and "google.com" aren't even spelled the same! Gimme a break.
  • Wake up! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @08:58AM (#9182214)
    Is everyone asleep - this lady is just greedy!
  • by gowen (141411) <gwowen@gmail.com> on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @08:58AM (#9182220) Homepage Journal
    Answer : write down a figure, then add a lot of zeros. *rimshot*

    Thank you. I'll be here all week; don't forget to tip your server. Why not try the tuna?
  • Silly (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mfh (56) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @08:58AM (#9182222) Journal
    I'm sorry but this is fucking retarded. Why would anyone think it would be okay to sue a company named Google for using a possible variant of the un-trademarked word Googol to describe a business that creates a data searching system? If there is a connection, why doesn't dictionary.com show one in the google definition [reference.com]? I could see perhaps a case if Google was called Googol, but this appears to be nothing more than a cash grab by a family of broke twits. Besides, the guy didn't invent the word! His 9 year old nephew did [www.fpx.de]! From that link: The american mathematician Edward Kasner once asked his nine-year-old nephew to invent a name for a very large number, ten to the power of one hundred; and the boy called it a googol.
  • He didn't. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ArbiterOne (715233) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @08:58AM (#9182227) Homepage
    As the story goes, he was trying to come up with a good name for 10^100. He asked a little kid (some say his nephew) for a name, and the kid responded, "Call it a googol."
    This is ridiculous, by the way. It's like the guy who came up with the word "milennium" suing LucasFilm because of Star Wars.
  • by Gothmolly (148874) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @08:59AM (#9182240)
    Some dead Greek guy's relative sues MPAA over use of the word 'Pi' as a movie title.
    Roman mathematician's descendents sue Dr. Evil over the use of the word "Million"
    Parker Brothers sued over the name 'Mr. Green' in the popular "Clue" game by the guy who invented that word.

    This post brought to you by the number 3(TM), the letter P(TM) and the color yellow(TM).
  • by ComaVN (325750) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @08:59AM (#9182242)
    No?

    Ok, nothing to see here, move along.

    How the fuck do you invent a word.
  • by Anti Frozt (655515) <chris DOT buffett AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @09:00AM (#9182253)

    than if I named my company "One Hundred Billion?" (raises pinky finger to corner of mouth)

    Can you get a copyright/trademark on a number?

  • by Anonymous Custard (587661) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @09:01AM (#9182258) Homepage Journal
    Dictionarying [dictionary.com] "Google [reference.com]":

    The World-Wide Web search engine that indexes the greatest number of web pages - over two billion by December 2001 and provides a free service that searches this index in less than a second.


    The site's name is apparently derived from "googol", but note the difference in spelling.

    The "Google" spelling is also used in "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams, in which one of Deep Thought's designers asks, "And are you not," said Fook, leaning anxiously foward, "a greater analyst than the Googleplex Star Thinker in the Seventh Galaxy of Light and Ingenuity which can calculate the trajectory of every single dust particle throughout a five-week Dangrabad Beta sand blizzard?"
  • by BigGar' (411008) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @09:01AM (#9182259) Homepage
    the stupidest thing I've ever heard of.
  • So instead of having her father's name attached to a hugely successful web search engine she'd rather have it attached to some lawsuit that is going to make her family look like a bunch of assholes once the media gets wind of it.

    Good one!
  • Ofcourse! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dark Lord Seth (584963) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @09:01AM (#9182266) Journal
    In 1955 he died and much later a search engine called Google was born. His relatives claim that Kasner must be spinning in his grave. They believe Google has gained financially at their expense and they want to become IPO insiders to put his soul to rest.

    As wel all know, potentially large sums of money can put a deceased loved one to rest. Why doesn't Google solve it creatively? Add a small line of text with a link that states what a googol is, with a tribute to Kasner, his work and his other achievements? The man and his work have been recognized, the family doesn't get a cent and everyone, except those greedy bastards, is happy.

  • A bit greedy are we? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Penguinisto (415985) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @09:02AM (#9182272) Journal
    Bah! It appears to be just another relative trying to cash in on someone else's work, like the decendants of the guy who copyrighted the "happy birthday" song awhile back.

    Besides, no one has seen fit to defend the implied trademark (though registered? I'm thinking "not), so I doubt that the lawsuit gets anywhere... I suspect a couple of relatives saw Google's IPO numbers and decided to try at cashing in.

    /P

  • by radoni (267396) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @09:04AM (#9182288)
    ..though IANAL...

    the use of G and an 'o' for each page of search results ending with the 'gle'

    this may be a legitimate claim, but it is made completely weak by the circumstances (google's IPO namely) and to my knowledge the term "googol" is in most unabridged dictionaries defining a number of value one with one hundred zeros.

    after 12 or 13 sides, regular polygons are named by their prefix and the 'gon' suffix. my favorite one? googolgon. transform!
  • by arvindn (542080) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @09:05AM (#9182302) Homepage Journal
    Does anyone think its the slightest bit innovative to give a name to a very big number? I think this is just a publicity scam capitalizing on the coming IPO. Google's lawyers should have to trouble with this one.
  • Gringo (Score:5, Funny)

    by turgid (580780) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @09:05AM (#9182304) Journal
    Maybe google should change its name to gringo? You could go to www.heygringo.com to ask a question.

    I am a gringo! [funwavs.com]

  • by JessLeah (625838) * on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @09:06AM (#9182317)
    At what point are people -- rational people-- going to get together and form a coalition to bring about a bloodless coup, lift the Democrats and Republicans from office, wipe clean the slate of stupid laws and ridiculous political/legal traditions, form a new American government starting from the foundation of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and finally make it so that bullshit like this is the exception rather than the norm? Good God, the nation's gone absolutely ape-shit. When's the revolution, and how can it be brought about without further bloodshed? Ridiculous lawsuits like this are just a symptom of how detached from reality the US has gotten.

    I'm good and sick of this "lawyerocracy" we have here. I'd love to see a "geekocracy".
    • Geekocracy (Score:5, Funny)

      by Chemisor (97276) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @10:18AM (#9183153)
      > I'm good and sick of this "lawyerocracy" we have here. I'd love to see a "geekocracy".

      Surely, we must first point out the incalculable advantages of having a geekocracy. Our entire lives will be changed! Think of what will be different:

      • Everyone will have 10gbps broadband.
      • Knowledge of programming would be a prerequisite to high school graduation.
      • Taxes will be submitted online in handcoded XML format.
      • The legal system will be refactored to eliminate bloat, duplicate codes, and bugs, establishing the new SLS (Standard Legal System) worldwide.
      • It would be a fedral crime to stuff a geek into a locker (punishable by a year of sex deprivation)
      • Everyone would convert to the metric system.
      • The calendar would be revised to eliminate all those pesky 12 and 60 factors.
      • Everyone would start counting at 0.
      • Normal working hours will be shifted to 4pm-4am.
      • All products will be covered by GPL and would be available free of charge. If anyone wants to make money they would offer installation support, customization, or news services.
      • Pizza will become the new national food.
      • There would be endless debates on whether garbage collection is a good thing.
      • All wars will result in complete assimilation. No civilization can resist our hordes of fusion tanks and leviathans.
      • Killing monsters will become the national pastime.
      • The ruling elite would have to be periodically reelected due to their inability to reproduce. This ensures that the government stays democratic.
      • Natalie Portman will become the national symbol of hope. She will host the annual celebration of the national hot grits day.
      • It will be a basic human right to disassemble stuff.
      • Shorts and teeshirts will become formal attire.
      • Linus Torvalds will be the president of the world.

  • by amichalo (132545) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @09:07AM (#9182327)
    You don't see Parket Brothers suing Microsoft of the word "Monopoly".

    But seriously, our society is WAY WAY WAY too litigious and opportunistic for anyone's good. On what grounds based in reality does the family of the man who invented the word "Googol" have to the Internet search engine company?

    Google even has it's own dictionary entry - two actually, V and N
    • I hate to see what the future brings...

      I don't doubt that some mathematician will discover a formula or specific method of doing a calculation, will name it after himself, and then try to patent it to prevent universities and schools from teaching it.

      There should be a law that prevents this type of thing. "Googol" represents a number, that's all. What's to copyright? Had Google not existed, these people wouldn't have made a profit anyway. They're flat out using the law in a way it WASN'T meant to be used
  • by macshune (628296) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @09:08AM (#9182340) Journal
    According to the original article in the Baltimore Sun [baltimoresun.com], the family hasn't decided to sue yet. They probably know that they don't really have a case. 'sides, all they want is to be insiders for the IPO, atm, not get zillions in punitive damages or trademark-violation damages. Of course, this could all change if they don't get the chance to be insiders for the IPO.

    So no, this doesn't really seem like a case of folks suing google 'cause they are violating the common-law trademark rights of the 4-year old who came up with "googol"...yet.
  • by Jonny Royale (62364) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @09:10AM (#9182373) Homepage Journal
    First question: Is the word Googol trademarked?

    Second:
    Years ago, Coca-Cola lost the second half of its name to the public domain, when a judge ruled that "Cola" had become a generic term for referring to soft drinks. Similarly, "Aspirin" started as a brand name and wound up as the generic name for the drug. This is why the makers of "Kleenex" brand facial tissues bother with the "brand facial tissues" part, because there MUST be a viable generic term for a defendable brand name to exist.

    -Motley fool web site

    There's several rulings about names that ARE trademarked "falling" into public domain, and it's basically, you're a victim of your own success. Since the word Googol was used as a mathematical term, and has no doubt been used in numerous papers, discussions, etc., I have little belief that this suit would succeed, since the term has definitely been in the public domain for a long time.

    That being said, it would be nice if the Google folks maybe put up some of that IPO money to help kids learn math, or something....
  • Cha-ching!!! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jkabbe (631234) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @09:12AM (#9182402)
    Talk about trying to cash in on success! I doubt they have a legal leg to stand on. To my knowledge googol wasn't trademarked. So it's not like he was trying to restrict use of the term. In fact, since an effort was made to get it into the general mathematical parlance, pretty much the opposite is true.
  • My initials (Score:3, Funny)

    by eyeball (17206) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @09:12AM (#9182403) Journal
    Hey, my name is Scott Charlie Orth. i've been around long before a certain company. This gives me an idea...

    Cha-ching!
  • by Halo- (175936) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @09:13AM (#9182410)
    This whole thing is ludicris. First of all, I don't think anyone is entitled to derivatives of parts of speech contributed to the general language. If I name 10 ^ 6653 a "haloplex" that's great, but it doesn't mean I can control people using the name. A single integer is not intellectual property. 17 is not, 10^100 is not.

    What about other word derived terms? Trillian? Is whoever can prove a DNA link to the person who first uttered "million" , "billion", etc going to sue people for refering to someone as a "millionaire"? Or the governments of the world for issuing budgets in billions and trillions?

    I may be wrong, and I suppose I shouldn't trust evil Google to check, but I thought the actual name for the number was a "googleplex"? And why aren't they going after GooglePlex Media [thegoogleplex.com]?

    Google is near and dear to a lot of nerds' hearts, mine included. One of my favorite profs in college was a good friend of Brin, and got me started using Google when the whole thing was still beta.

    /rant

  • by The_REAL_DZA (731082) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @09:13AM (#9182415)
    Who's Billy DeBeck, you ask? Why, just the guy who created the comic strip character Barney Google [toonopedia.com] (you know, the guy with the "goo-goo-googly eyes"?!) and King Features Syndicate for distributing the cartoon for the past EIGHTY-FIVE YEARS (which, by the way, doesn't predate Mr. Kastner but which DOES predate the coining of the word "googol" [4reference.net] by at least a decade.)

    It's this kind of frivolous abuse of the courts that keeps real and legitimate cases that might bring about real reforms and improvements from being effective (or even successful.)
  • That's asinine... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anita Coney (648748) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @09:15AM (#9182433) Homepage
    The standard for trademark is confusion in the marketplace. I.e., will consumers be confused about the similarities in the names. E.g., I could legally open an automobile repair facility called McDonalds because consumers would not confuse crappy food with having your car repaired.

    From what I gather, Kasner's family has absolutely no business from which consumers could get confused. They're essentially trying to trademark a word merely because a former family member came up with it. That's not the law. Not only will this case get kicked out, the family will be sanctioned for bringing it.
  • Legal silliness (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kitzilla (266382) <paperfrogNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @09:20AM (#9182505) Homepage Journal
    They believe Google has gained financially at their expense ...

    I can't wait to see how these folks' lawyers quantify losses at Google's hands, or how Google's registered trademark causes confusion with the customers of the word "googol."

  • by HarveyBirdman (627248) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @09:21AM (#9182511) Journal
    ...and rename the site "butthead great-niece of some math professor."
  • by LilMikey (615759) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @09:30AM (#9182605) Homepage
    Let me get this straight: 60 years ago a mathematician used a different word that's not spelled the same but sounds a bit like google when spoken -- although I'd like the see a pronunciation key for googol -- and now they're claiming that google got their name by drawing on the inifinte wisdom of the bloke the just kinda pulled a word out of his ass to represent 'one million gajillion billions'.

    What I want to know is how poor of mathematician was this guy that his crowning contribution to math was the word 'googol'? Or better yet, how incredibly stupid is the son to think his dad's crowning contribution to math is the word 'googol'?


    As an aside, do they think it could possibly be the case that google got its name from other words... like maybe:

    "go" -- 'to begin an action or motion' M-W
    "ogle" -- 'to look at especially with greedy or interested attention' M-W

    Hmmm... 'to start looking with interested attention'? That's just silly... of course they got the word from 'one million gajillion billions'.
  • Barney Google (Score:4, Informative)

    by dpbsmith (263124) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @09:37AM (#9182688) Homepage
    ...and wait until the King Features Syndicate and/or the heirs of Billy Rose start knocking at the door. The comic strip was created by Billy DeBeck in 1919, so I guess maybe they're in the clear until the next copyright-extension law gets passed--although the comic strip still exists, as "Snuffy Smith." The song is later than that and is probably still under copyright. You all know it, right?

    Right?

    Baaaaaaaarney Google!
    With the goo-goo-googley eyes!
    Baaaaaaaarney Google!
    Had a wife three times his size!
    She sued Barney for divorce--
    Now he's living with his horse--
    Baaaaaaaarney Google!
    With the goo-goo-googley eyes!

    Well, it WAS a big hit. A long time ago.
  • Oh yeah (Score:4, Funny)

    by Cranx (456394) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @11:28AM (#9183955)
    ...because the word "Googol" has been an inspirational breakthrough in the world of math, and the Google search engine has been little more than a coat-tail rider.
  • by jCaT (1320) on Tuesday May 18, 2004 @11:29AM (#9183962)
    This is a side-note really, since it doesn't deal with the word googol, but it's at least halfway on-topic...

    I was talking to a friend who works at Google, and apparently the general consensus is that the company does not want the name of the company to be verbed like Xerox has. Like:

    "Just go google 'litigious bastards' and see what comes up!"

    I can see where they're coming from, as once a term makes it into the lexicon like there is a considerable dilution to the name. Xerox fought that for years. I'm not entirely sure the same thing could happen in this case- but I bet a lot of people were saying the same thing at Xerox in the early 80's.

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