Google stole Nexus, says 'Blade Runner' family

Family of author Philip K. Dick reportedly threatens suit over name of Google's new phone. They say it and Android are lifted from "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read

I imagine that everyone in the Googleplex, while not being exactly replicant-natured, reads many of the same books, watches many of the same movies, and shops online on the same polo shirt site.

Perhaps that is why my sympathy nodule is twiddling at the news that the family of the author Philip K. Dick is reportedly considering legal action at the name of the new Google phone.

Dick is the author of "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" a novel in which owners of animals are rather cool and androids struggle with the concept of empathy. In this novel, which was sucked into Hollywood to serve as the stimulus for the movie "Blade Runner," the androids are called Nexus-6.

Google's operating system is called Android and its new phone, unveiled to hysteria rather than hisses Tuesday, is called Nexus One. Might the idea for these names have been spawned by a Google Book Club reading of Dick?

He looks a little like Harrison Ford, don't you think? CC Affiliate/Flickr

Who am I to suggest that "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" must be compulsory homework reading at Google and that's how they alighted upon such alluring names? For Dick's family leaped upon the the allusion and, according to The Wall Street Journal, is now consulting learned brains and briefs with a view to perhaps seek compensation.

"We feel this is a clear infringement of our intellectual-property rights," Isa Dick Hackett, a daughter of Phillip K. Dick told the Journal.

Google declined the Journal's request for comment. And lawyers the paper talked to, specializing in trademark disputes, didn't necessarily see an obvious case, even though to a layperson's eyes there is certainly an obvious case of remarkable coincidence.

Naturally, one wouldn't dream of accusing Google of having some kind of disregard for intellectual property (facetiousness intended). And the word "nexus" has been used in many contexts. Moreover, just because you're a character in a novel, it doesn't mean you immediately get legal protection. It seems to be one of those nuanced problems that lawyers find lucrative.

The word "Droid," however, was deemed different. It was thought to be so characteristic of the "Star Wars" series that Verizon paid Lucasfilm a fee to license the name.

Perhaps "Star Wars" is simply a more famous movie than "Blade Runner." Perhaps Verizon is trying to be honorable in its business dealings. Perhaps, though, in such instances, it sometimes depends on whose pockets and determination are the deepest.

One imagines that Google might choose to launch a Nexus Two, then even a Nexus Three. What if the company goes so far as to launch a sixth in the Nexus series? Would Dick's family then merit a call from Google? Or would they call it Nexus Seven and claim that six was the company's unlucky number?

Would anyone at Google like to offer us a thought or at least give us a list of the Nexus One team's favorite books?