Tech Insider

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Who Oogled first?

Who oogled first? A Long Island entrepreneur against Internet giant Google Inc may hinge on just that, according to papers filed this week in federal court.

The suit filed by Google in US District Court in Brooklyn takes issue with disabled Holtsville businessman Richard Wolfe’s Internet shopping site, Froogles.com, which he said he registered in December 2000. The site has links from 700 online stores, which pay Wolfe a commission on sales.

Two years later, Mountain View, Calif.-based Google launched a comparison-shopping site of its own, called Froogle.com. After Google applied to register the name with the US Patent and Trademark office, Wolfe filed an objection, arguing the Froogle.com name infringed on one he’d been using for two years. That’s when the legal battle began to escalate.

Last year, while the trademark dispute was still pending, Google took its claim before an arbitration panel of the Internet domain-name referee known as ICANN. The panel ruled in Wolfe’s favour, noting the four-year lag between his launch of Froogles.com and Google filing its complaint. This week’s move to federal court is an escalation of the battle that could strike Wolfe’s lower-budget operation hard.

Experts say fighting federal trademark cases can rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. ‘‘Personally, I find it ironic that a company whose motto is ‘do no evil’ would put so much effort into trying to muscle me out of my business,’’ Wolfe wrote in an email on Thursday.

Google spokesman Steve Langdon said federal court was the proper venue for deciding issues of ‘‘use and registration’’ of the trademark ‘‘in a single proceeding.’’

He said, ‘‘Protecting the Google brand is a top priority for us,’’ and claimed Froogles.com and its services were ‘‘likely to cause confusion or diminish the value’’ of Google’s brand.

Wolfe, 41, a former carpenter who his lawyer said is permanently partly disabled from two work accidents, created the website as a primary business from his home. He wouldn’t disclose his annual sales.

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