The recent announcement that "Google" will be added to the next edition of the Merriam-Webster dictionary as a verb raises interesting questions about the future of everyone's favorite search brand. For many Internet users, "to Google" is already so synonymous with the act of searching the Web that you might as well use a lowercase G, but lawyers at the search engine might see it differently.
Trademark law in the U.S. requires companies to defend their marks against unauthorized use or else lose exclusive control over them. For example, if you don't work for the Xerox corporation your document equipment makes photocopies, not Xeroxes. In one of the more famous cases of trademark neglect, the word "aspirin," once a trademark of the Bayer corporation, has long since lapsed into public-domain status.
Will inclusion of capital-G "Google" in the dictionary bring the company's brand one step closer to becoming lowercase-G "google"? It's entirely possible. In fact, Google actually raised the possibility of losing protection for its trademark in last year's annual report. To prevent unauthorized use, Google will ultimately have to take legal action -- but can you really sue the dictionary and still not be evil?