Google is no stranger to IP law. In the US alone, it holds
· 78 registered trade marks for Google word and style marksIn addition, the company has conducted consumer trade mark education to prevent genericide, reminding people that they are “searching the web on Google,” not “googling.” Might this have been in Google’s mind when it chose to restructure its business by creating a new parent holding company with the non-too-distinctive name Alphabet? Many companies already trade under the name Alphabet or something similar to it, including a subsidiary of BMW, which owns the URL www.alphabet.com (Google’s Alphabet will use the URL www.abc.xyz). As reported here:
· More than 400 registered trade marks for word and style marks across all of its properties (e.g. Nest, YouTube, Songza)
· More than 1,500 registered patents
· More than 2,600 patent applications
“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.”While some have joked that perhaps Google forgot to
“We liked the name Alphabet because it means a collection of letters that represent language, one of humanity's most important innovations, and is the core of how we index with Google search! We also like that it means alpha‑bet (Alpha is investment return above benchmark), which we strive for!”
Will Google (I mean Alphabet) be able to use this name without significant risk of trade mark disputes? Probably. While Alphabet is not generic or descriptive of the goods or services, nor is it hugely distinctive as a trade name. The sheer number of businesses using Alphabet as a trade name or as part of a trade name minimizes the risk of consumer confusion: consumers are used to seeing multiple Alphabets in various industries. In addition, Alphabet itself will not be providing commercial goods or services; its subsidiaries, including Google, Nest, and Calico, will be consumer brands housed under the holding company umbrella of Alphabet. As Larry Page explains,
Google's new corporate HQ?
“we are not intending for this to be a big consumer brand with related products—the whole point is that Alphabet companies should have independence and develop their own brands.”
Subsidiary [x] may be developing a self-driving car using Google software, but BMW can rest assured that [x]’s self-driving car is unlikely to be marketed under the competing brand name of Alphabet.