ACS sues Google over Scholar

Society says Google violated its trademark, but search engine calls suit 'without merit'

Dec 15, 2004
Doug Payne(dougpayne@islandtelecom.com)

The American Chemical Society (ACS) says Google's new academic and scientific search engine—Google Scholar—is infringing on its established search product, Scifinder Scholar. The ACS has filed a statement of claim in US District Court in the District of Columbia, part of which seeks a permanent injunction against Google from using the word 'Scholar' for its beta search product.

Google launched Google Scholar on November 18. The ACS action, filed on December 9, claims the society holds a common law trademark on the word 'Scholar' because its search engine is often shortened to that one word.

"We have had a well respected search service—Scifinder Scholar—since 1998," Flint Lewis, the Secretary and General Counsel of the ACS, told The Scientist. "It services nearly a thousand university subscribers."

"Hundreds of thousands of scientists have used it to explore research topics and to locate and browse journal and patent references, substance information, regulated chemicals, chemical reactions, and chemical supplier information through world-leading databases, created by the ACS's Chemical Abstracts Service over the past 97 years," Lewis said. "Our action is not in any way focused on functionality; we are focusing simply on the use of the name."

Steve Langton, a spokesman for Google, told The Scientist: "We are confident in our use of the name Google Scholar. This lawsuit is without merit."

ACS is also seeking unspecified damages against Google. "At this stage, we just want to stop the use of the word 'Scholar' by Google," Lewis said. "In any case, Google has yet to officially respond to the suit, so it will be some time before this gets to court."

Just days after the ACS action, Google announced that it would soon begin scanning and indexing books and bound periodicals in several major university libraries. Although Stanford and the University of Michigan say they are making their entire catalogues available to Google, others, like Harvard, are going to test the service first. Harvard is making only about 40,000 volumes available initially. Others, such as Oxford, want to limit access to books published before 1901. The New York Public Library, for its part, is planning to make available only books no longer covered by copyright.