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Google Abandons the Gmail Name In Germany 187

Posted by kdawson
from the but-not-the-service dept.
praps writes "A three-year trademark conflict has ended with Google withdrawing its use of the Gmail brand in Germany. On Friday, a plain-text message appeared, beginning 'We can't provide service under the Gmail name in Germany ... Bummer.' Despite the climbdown, Google Germany's spokesman said on Monday that the action was being taken 'even though we believe we're not legally obliged to do so.'" We discussed the tussle in Germany when Google first lost in court a year ago.
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Google Abandons the Gmail Name In Germany

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  • Surprising? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mensa Babe (675349) * on Monday June 23, 2008 @07:36PM (#23910969) Homepage Journal

    Well, it's hardly surprising. According to government records, the only names not yet trademarked are "Popplers" and "Zittzers". I remember the internal confusion at Google back in the day when there were plans to set up a worldwide network of Google hot spots, or Gspots, only to find out that it is nearly impossible to find a name that is both pleasant to the ear, even remotely meaningful and not already taken. Enyone remembers the scandal [theinquirer.net] three years ago? This is another example. And what about our beloved Firefox browser? It had to change its name not once, not twice, but trice to finally get rid of the trademark problems and still any literate person will point out to the Craig Thomas' novel, not to mention the Firefox bicycle company, or the Malaguti Firefox scooter, all of which being much older than any web browser on Earth. But does it mean that people can't use Google to check for any prior art of the name they have chosen for their projects? No. It just means that all of that trademark hysteria of the last one and a half decades, this "get outta my intellectual property!" attitude, it all hurts progress. Because, at the end of the day, isn't progress what it is all about? Shouldn't we just shut up, roll up our sleeves and start making our global village a better place instead of worrying about not hurting someones feelings or not breaking some law? I am really sick of every good initiative being sabotaged by someone who "owns" some "intellectual property". Google is probably one of ten, maybe twenty companies that are more concerned about morals and ethics than profits, yet some Germans have a problem with one of its most popular names and when do they sue? When the name is already known worldwide! This is just too much. Please let me quote a great thinker, George Bernard Shaw: "If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas."

    • by jez9999 (618189) on Monday June 23, 2008 @07:44PM (#23911057) Homepage Journal

      But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.

      So, you have an idea that I thought up... for FREE!!! Evil commie. </Reagan>

    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by Gewalt (1200451)
      So JDHannan is one of your sockpuppets?
    • Re:Surprising? (Score:5, Informative)

      by MisterBlueSky (1213526) on Monday June 23, 2008 @08:00PM (#23911225)

      yet some Germans have a problem with one of its most popular names and when do they sue? When the name is already known worldwide!
      They sued in 2005. GMail was launched in 2004. When should they have sued? In 1999?
    • Re:Surprising? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by exley (221867) on Monday June 23, 2008 @08:01PM (#23911229) Homepage

      The name "gmail" was already taken for an e-mail provider. Except for hard-core Google fanboys (and girls), this really seems like a pretty open-and-shut case.

      For a case like Firefox, where there are other companies using "Firefox" in their name... I don't think there's any chance of bicycles and scooters being confused with a web browser. But an e-mail service and... An e-mail service, well, there might be room for some confusion there.

      Google has a shitload of money. Does anyone really think they'd back down on this if they didn't have to?

      Big gigantic company doesn't get its way every single time. Boo hoo. I think Google will survive.

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        For a case like Firefox, where there are other companies using "Firefox" in their name... I don't think there's any chance of bicycles and scooters being confused with a web browser.

        Well, I didn't think there was a chance of web browser being confused with BIOS firmware, nor did I think it was possible to confuse a browser with a database, but still the browser now known as Firefox was forced to change its name because of that potential confusion with Phoenix BIOS and FirebirdSQL, didn't it?

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by K. S. Kyosuke (729550)

          When Mozilla renamed Phoenix to Firebird, I started having serious trouble googling for information on Firebird The Database Server - almost any usable information at all. You see, things like news, web pages of its users and so on. (At that time, I was learning Firebird in order to write a school project on top of it, and as a newbie, I simply used Google first to get some pointers.) Most of the things I was able to google were "OMFG the new super cute Firebird browser!". Oh, this, and the flamewsrs betwee

          • I think that is perhaps the best example of why trademarks are important, and why the name of the browser was changed again: having the same name as an unrelated business is allowable but taking the same name as a related product may make it harder for the lesser-known product to maintain a reasonable public image.

            Hypothetically, it would have been the same if, say, some company made finance management services called "Outlook" before Microsoft introduced their mail client. In this imaginary situation, Micr

      • Big gigantic company doesn't get its way every single time. Boo hoo. I think Google will survive.


        I wasn't aware a 4900 employee company was "gigantic" these days.

      • by damista (1020989)
        It is indeed a bit surprising, considering the trademark in question is not "gmail" but "G-Mail...und die Post geht richtig ab" (the translation is of no importance here). The "gmail"-part isn't even spelt the same way. I can't really see people confusing one with the other.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mqduck (232646)

        Google has a shitload of money. Does anyone really think they'd back down on this if they didn't have to?
        Google does indeed have a shitload of money. I'm somewhat surprised they haven't bought the rights to the name/the company. Were they asking for "too much" money? For that matter, how big are the g-mail people?
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Hal_Porter (817932)

          Maybe g-mail was bought by Microsoft and they asked for $171 Billion dollars to license the trademark to Google. Muhahaha.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by POTSandPANS (781918)
        Yes, Google does have a lot of money, probably enough to win. Google is not microsoft, they walked away instead of killing another company over a name. If you remember, there was a program called windows defender, but microsoft wanted to call their anti-spyware program windows defender. Microsoft threatened to sue, the guy gave up the name just because he couldn't afford to fight microsoft for it.

        Before you say Google lost, maybe you should consider that they decided to walk away..

        • Re:Surprising? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by jorghis (1000092) on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @02:43AM (#23913545)

          Um, no, they tried to fight the little guy who held the rights to it for years and eventually the court ended up ruling against them. "Not being evil" would have been if they had walked away as soon as they realized that another guy legitimately owned the name gmail. Google's failure to crush the little guy in this instance was not for lack of trying.

          In the case of windows defender at least MS had an argument that the third party had no right to use the name "windows" as part of their trademark. Google didnt even have that.

          Basically the MS case in this instance is less evil than the Google case. It is amusing to see all the fanboys try to find some reason why google was being morally superior in this instance though.

      • by thsths (31372)

        > The name "gmail" was already taken for an e-mail provider.

        If only it were. G-Mailer is a snail-mailer with an electronic interface, that also handles e-mail, marketed for businesses. So while it can be used to handle email, there is very little danger of it being confused with GoogleMail. I for one am still baffled by the court verdict, but I have to concede that it is "legal".

    • by Alaren (682568) on Monday June 23, 2008 @08:06PM (#23911277)

      ...when it comes to Trademarks, it's not all about progress.

      Copyright law and patent law are about progress, at least in the United States (and, I believe, the UK). Trademark law is about unfair competition and brand identity. The legal community (I am a law student, not a lawyer) doesn't even agree entirely on whether trademarks ought to qualify as "intellectual property" rightly considered.

      If you study trademark law, you will realize that when it comes to trademarks, not only is progress not the point, but in fact progress is the problem. Specifically, back when we all did our shopping at local stores, knew the owner (who was also one of the checkout clerks), and likely lived within a few days' travel of the craftsmen who made the products we purchased, trademarks were really important to ensure quality. This is why trademark law was solely the domain of state governments in the U.S. for many years--it just wasn't a federal issue. Interstate commerce was just too big for trademarks; if you lived a whole state away, you probably had never heard of any of the other state's "brands."

      There were some very big exceptions to this, of course, but they were few. If every other town had a "Johnson's Jeweler's" owned by a different Johnson, who could complain? There was no competition. The industrial revolution and mass production changed the game somewhat, but maybe less that you'd think. You could produce goods en masse, but advertising still had to take place to establish your brand. Even the telegraph and telephone, while making the world of advertising a bit smaller, didn't quite do trademark law in.

      But these days, everyone's eye is on the Internet. And if you own "BobsEmporium.com," you're the only guy who can really be Bob's Emporium (dot com). Add into the mix various international treaties, and some guy in China can trademark-squat on a couple of names and when you try to start your business, you may find yourself getting sued the moment you have enough money to justify it.

      Furthermore, most people don't understand trademark law well enough to realize when they do or do not have an actual trademark. All over the Internet we see these claims popping up about how this name or that is "protected," as though simply owning the domain name created a trademark. Trademarks have specific statutory requirements. One that even the courts often forget about is that trademarks are supposed to be source indicating. All those "Smarmy Comment(TM)" that you see around the web that fail to be source indicating, in my opinion, shouldn't be protectable unless the company using that tagline is actually using it to indicate source.

      My perception is that trademark law needs to be revisited by a sensible legislature. The Internet creates major headaches for the establishment of a trademark, never mind its enforcement, by putting your enterprising imagination up against everyone else in the world, instead of everyone in your community. It's bad for commerce. But sensible legislatures are hard to come by, and the big players are not about to weaken their "IP warchests" by suggesting that trademark law is about as broken as every other kind of IP law.

      The Information Age has changed the way we approach this sort of information, but thus far our laws haven't caught on.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 23, 2008 @08:09PM (#23911293)

      "But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas."

      The same could be said of STDs.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You totally miss the point.

      - Google is known worldwide, not "gmail"
      not using your Googol-$ brand is a bummer

      - they sued right away when gmail started

      - every major multinational company knows how to
      research international brand names, but Google can't? Google is not mozilla.org
      At least they should learn how to find and use a good search engine in the internets.

      - Google is not the savior of this planet, but another BIG company in the hands of greedy shareholders, like any other.
      If you don't believe that. let's

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      When the name is already known worldwide!

      You do realize that Daniel Giersch has had the trademark since 2000, right?

      If so, are you arguing that larger entities should be entitled to remove properties from smaller entities merely due to their notoriety?

    • Re:Surprising? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dreamchaser (49529) on Monday June 23, 2008 @08:29PM (#23911451) Homepage Journal

      You had me up until this bit:

      Google is probably one of ten, maybe twenty companies that are more concerned about morals and ethics than profits

      Google is interested in profits, period. That doesn't make them bad. It just makes them like any other publically held company. The 'Don't be Evil' motto went out the window when they went public, for better or for worse.

    • Re:Surprising? (Score:5, Informative)

      by photomonkey (987563) on Monday June 23, 2008 @09:02PM (#23911687)

      Moderation. As in, 'In moderation.'

      In moderation, most things are good. If I make a really good car, and I call it a Sephir, I don't want another company to be able to call their car (or car-related service) a Sephir.

      However, do I care if there's a Sephir cola? Probably not.

      Do I care if someone makes an email service @sephir.com? Probably not.

      Frankly, I probably wouldn't care if 'Sephir' became synonymic with 'car.'

      But the problem, at least in the US, is that firstly, to hold a trademark, I must actively defend it. Meaning that to demonstrate that defense, I have to C&D or sue every ISP and cola manufacturer that uses it, so that when some slimy car company opens up and tries to usurp it from me, I have a legal leg to stand on.

      The other problem is a sense of entitlement. Two search engines called Google? Award it to the original Google. A non-information technology product called Google using dissimilar trade dress (meaning the word, but not the logo as it sits today)? Let them run with it. It shouldn't hurt anything.

      It's not IP that hurts progress. It is the overreaching of IP theories and laws that hurt progress. If a person invents or makes something really good, why not allow him/her to enjoy some real 'bonuses' for having done so?

      • Re:Surprising? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Saint Fnordius (456567) on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @02:51AM (#23913587) Homepage Journal

        As the two anonymous cowards pointed out, trademarks are not global. When applying for a trademark, the business in which the trademark will be used must be listed. So when applying for a trademark for Sephir, your original trademark only covers transportation. A Sephir ISP or cola could co-exist as long as neither brand makes an attempt to suggest that a relation exists. Doing something like "Sephir Cola, the perfect drink when driving your Fnord Sephir" would be a no-no. The same goes for "official" licensing: since Sephir Cola exists, Gurps Beverages can't offer "Gurps Cola Sephir Collector's Edition".

        So since successful trademarks can expand into licensed merchandise, it is prudent to meet those with similar names, and define beforehand who gets what sector. Of course, this won't prevent legal battles down the road (see Apple Records versus Apple Computer)...

    • I found Googles Gspot, it was hidden behind some foliage and server wires.

    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      Karma: Positive (probably because of superiour intellect)
      Hey, I'm a Mensan too. So, please, on behalf of the organisation, I ask you to spell "superior" correctly. No, I don't care if it was supposed to be ironic. No, I don't care if you claim dyslexia. Just spell it right!
    • Re:Surprising? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jesterzog (189797) on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @12:39AM (#23912951) Homepage Journal

      It just means that all of that trademark hysteria of the last one and a half decades, this "get outta my intellectual property!" attitude, it all hurts progress. Because, at the end of the day, isn't progress what it is all about? Shouldn't we just shut up, roll up our sleeves and start making our global village a better place instead of worrying about not hurting someones feelings or not breaking some law? I am really sick of every good initiative being sabotaged by someone who "owns" some "intellectual property".

      I can't comment on this particular case with much knowledge, but if I spent a lot of time, money and effort to build up a local product around a particular name, I'd be really annoyed if someone else came in from overseas and usurped all that effort making it worthless. This is particularly the case if their only claim to having the name was that they happened to be a company 1000+ times larger than my own (eg. Google, Microsoft) with expensive lawyers, and they thought it'd be a nice name for their own service. Businesses and organisations shouldn't get special treatment over others just because they happen to be well known and (in some cases) liked by a lot of people.

      Clearly there should be some kind of common sense approach to trademarks, without clearly defining what that actually means, but I don't think that simply stomping on anyone who happens to already be using a name that a corporation like Google might want is the way to go. If these guys were using 'gmail' in Germany before Google created its own service, and if they were using it for something that might be confused with Google's service (which they clearly were), and if they notified Google within a reasonable amount of time, then I think they're completely within their rights to take this action. Good for them.

      It's part of doing global business that some names might already be being used in some countries. The people at Google should know this as much as every other corporation and plan for it accordingly. If Google picked a global name that might eventually send more business to a possible competitor, then it's Google's own fault.

  • FFS (Score:4, Insightful)

    by zoomshorts (137587) on Monday June 23, 2008 @07:43PM (#23911051)

    Call it GoogleMail , not rocket science.

    • by Xelios (822510)
      That's what they call it now, with the web address mail.google.com. I think it's a better fit for Germany anyway, Gmail as pronounced in german would be "gay-mail".

      • Re:FFS (Score:4, Interesting)

        by xaxa (988988) on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @05:30AM (#23914273)

        They call it GoogleMail in the UK too, and have done for some time, because they lost a more-or-less identical trademark case here too. If I go to gmail.com I'm redirected to a site where all the branding reads 'Google Mail'.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 23, 2008 @07:44PM (#23911059)

    A look at gmail.de nets some strange foreign ramblings. The first bit which says

    'G-mailer versenden und empfangen ihre elektronischen Nachrichten und echten Briefe über www.gmail.de und sparen so Zeit und Geld (Briefporto ab 2 Cent!) und entlasten unsere Umwelt.'

    Now, it's been awhile since I was in high school, but that roughly translates to:

    'G-mailer verily and emphatically this here electronic new right and etches uber briefs www.gmail.de and spares so this and gold (portable briefs at 2 cents) and enlisted users underwhelmed'

    Clearly, they want to use gmail.de to sell personalized underpants at 2 cents per unit, despite the fact that wearers are not too impressed.

    These krauts get to use gmail.de to sell their kinky feitsh-wear while the smart folks at Google get nothing? Remind me again who won the war!

    • LOL !! I almost pissed my pants with your translations skills!!! Best comment of the semester!
    • by Dionysus (12737)

      Remind me again who won the war!

      The English?
  • by RipTatermen (1312953) on Monday June 23, 2008 @07:46PM (#23911069)
    I'm sure Googlegemeinschaftelektronischepostsystem will be just as catchy.

  • Uhhhh, on second thought...nevermind.
  • They should have called it "Google Mail" from the beginning. I still have people asking me what the hell gmail is.

  • De-Mail works for me. ;)

  • by W00dyW00d (821823) on Monday June 23, 2008 @08:02PM (#23911235)
    They should of just bought the company and took the trademark. They might have some cash to spare?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 23, 2008 @09:04PM (#23911705)

      They tried and Daniel Giersch denied them.

      Guess what, if they offer you a ton of money for something, you DON'T have to take it!

    • by Samah (729132)
      You mean they should *have* taken the Microsoft stance on things? Given Google's recent dealings (or lack of) with Microsoft it's my guess (and only speculation) that they're not that kind of corporation (and no, I'm not a Google "fanboi").
  • Just call it the New Gmail, ala New Coke.

    Oh wait, maybe not.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 23, 2008 @08:33PM (#23911489)

    G pronounced in German sounds like "gay". A few years ago when I told friends that I got a G-Mail beta account, they made fun of me and asked what my girlfriends thinks about that...

    • by thedarkone64 (890959) on Monday June 23, 2008 @10:45PM (#23912229)
      what my girlfriends thinks about that.

      You see, that's how we know you're lying.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by RealGrouchy (943109)

      That's why I never venture onto .de sites without first turning on my G-dar.

      - RG>

    • by aCC (10513) * on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @02:42AM (#23913533) Homepage

      G pronounced in German sounds like "gay". A few years ago when I told friends that I got a G-Mail beta account, they made fun of me and asked what my girlfriends thinks about that...

      What? That must have been a situation of an English speaker pronouncing the letter wrongly; probably just having read somewhere that it's close to the pronunciation of "gay". If you hear a German pronounce the letter, you will hear that it's nowhere near "gay".

      You can compare this to people saying that the English "th" sounds like "s".

    • by houghi (78078)

      So? Gay is not a German word and the market is clearly for Germany.

      When I was about 8 I realized that different languages exist and that sometimes words in one language mean something different in another and sometimes even in the same language, but in other parts of the country/world. (truck, billion, ...)

      And yes, I spoke more then one language at that age.

      Now start laughing like a little boy about this magazine [p-magazine.be] sold in every newspaper stand in Belgium. (hihi is says pee)

  • I don't understand the point of the trademark technicalities in this case. The Germans already know that Google's email product is called Gmail. Everyone they know in the rest of the world will still be calling it Gmail.

    The <title> on some browsers may change, but will anyone stop calling it Gmail?

    • by pimpimpim (811140)
      While I'm glad for the guy getting his justice done, I'm not sure if there's any winner here. I know many people who use gmail in Germany, but a lot of them are not Germans. Most likely google, using gmail.com or googlemail.com will not get a big userbase anyway, just because of not being originally german. Popular free e-mail accounts here are the german-based gmx.de and the german-based web.de, who are real ripoffs by uninvitedly switching your account to the "Gold" account, after which they start to ill
      • I ment: "after which they start to bill you". Though "ill" is sort of fitting. web.de works a bit like the RIAA, they try to get money from you, wave around with their contract clause, and just hope no-one lets it go to their attorney, because in fact they have no real grounds to stand on.
  • Mob rule (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by billcopc (196330)

    I'd rather see them ban German users from Gmail entirely. If the Germans really want Google Mail, they're welcome to kill the G-mail dude while shooting violent porn in an abandoned missile factory.

    No more annoying G-mail guy = Gmail for everyone. ...yeah, like I could trademark B-mail... uhhhm (gallops to the patent office)

  • by c0y (169660)

    The problem as I see it is the victor's.

    Gmail is still known the world over as Google's identity, and outside of Germany this changes nothing.

    Inside of Germany, I imagine this company has pissed off a lot of people, who might have been potential customers.

    If I learned tomorrow that I had inherited the intellectual property rights to a new kind of Soda, and that my ancestors had a claim on the name "Pepsi" I wouldn't be such a jackass as to try to sell my soda as Pepsi. That's only going to cause confusion a

    • by Malc (1751)

      Sounds like free marketing for gmail.de. They get to ride on Google's brand name. People outside of the small clique here on /. are surprisingly dim about tech and computers, so if they hear of gmail, then they might not know the difference until long after they've signed up. If they're happy with the service I doubt they'll complain.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Kalriath (849904) *

      Except that he had a service called "Gmail" before Google had a service called "Gmail".

      As such, your entire post is completely irrelevant.

What this country needs is a good five dollar plasma weapon.

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