By MG Siegler
The name “Android” is at the very core of Google’s mobile initiative. It’s even successfully gotten people to move away from calling the devices “Google Phones” or “GPhones,” something which seemed impossible prior to the unveiling. But Google may be in serious trouble of losing that name — or at least having to pay a hell of a lot of money to keep it.
Erich Specht, a man who runs a small Midwestern data company, applied for and was granted a trademark on the Android name in 2002, according to Forbes. Google? Well, it tried to trademark the name in 2007, shortly before its massive Android PR blitz — but it was rejected a few months later. Still, Google pushed forward with trying to gain legal rights over the name, but its appeals were again and again rejected, and its trademark application was apparently suspended last November.
So what does that mean? Well, Specht is seeking $94 million from Google (and all the other members of the Open Handset Alliance) for infringing on the Android name. He’ll be in court next week, and Google will have 60 days to respond to him. Given Google’s rejections by the Patent and Trademark Office, this things seems to reek of a high-priced settlement, in which Google gets to keep using the name while paying Specht something substantially less than the $94 million. But, it’s not quite that cut and dry.
You see, Specht actually owns the trademark on the name “Android Data” rather than just “Android.” But in the filing, it apparently describes “data” as merely a descriptive word, something which Specht’s lawyer is obviously playing up. In the past, Google tried to play the card Specht didn’t really care about the name and dissolved the company at one point, but that didn’t work. Still, if it can prove that people will clearly know the difference between the Android mobile software and Specht’s small company, Google may have a shot to get the case thrown out.
Something else to think about: Maybe Google is actually lucky that there aren’t as many Android phones on the market right now as it may have liked. It could save them a pretty penny if it does come to a settlement.
But regardless, just as it’s trying to ramp up the Android platform with dozens of new devices on the way, and a new 1.5 Android software update just out the door, Google cannot be happy about having to deal with this right now. And actually, this is all a bit like deja vu. If you recall in 2007, right after it unveiled the iPhone, Apple was greeted with a lawsuit from Cisco, which owned the rights to the name. The two sides quickly settled — but those were two big companies, not one big company and a little guy.
Remember Google, don’t be evil.