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Google hit with trademark suit over 'Scholar'

American Chemical Society alleges the search giant violated the nonprofit group's trademark when it launched Google Scholar.

The American Chemical Society has filed suit against Google, alleging that the search giant violated a trademark held by the group when it launched the Google Scholar search tool.

The suit, filed Dec. 9 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, claims that Google's use of the word "scholar" violates a May 2003 trademark held by ACS for the name of its Web-based academic search tool, SciFinder Scholar. In the suit, ACS, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group, demands that Google cease and desist from using the word "scholar" in the name of its tool in order to prevent confusion among users.

Both SciFinder Scholar and Google Scholar are designed to let individuals search previously published academic research. The fundamental difference between the two products is that SciFinder Scholar is used to index information stored in the ACS databases, while the Google tool indexes research already made publicly available on the Internet.

The other major difference is that ACS charges customers for use of SciFinder Scholar, which was introduced in 1998 and is licensed to roughly 1,000 colleges and universities worldwide. The beta version of Google Scholar, which was launched to the public Nov. 17, is available free of charge.

Google spokesman Steve Langdon declined to comment on the lawsuit, beyond saying that his company is confident in its use of the word "scholar" and that it believes that the ACS lawsuit is "without merit."

According to Flint Lewis, general counsel for the ACS, the organization has no problem with the concept behind Google's tool, just its title. He said the ACS met with lawyers representing the search company to discuss the issue on Dec. 1 and that Google refused to drop the name.

"Our contention is focused solely on their use of the name 'scholar,' not the purpose of the (Google Scholar) tool; if they'd called it almost anything else we wouldn't be where we are," Lewis said. "SciFinder Scholar is well-known and long has been well-received throughout the academic community, and we must protect our name and the good will the tool has already achieved."

Lewis further contends that the SciFinder Scholar has become known simply as "Scholar" in the ranks of academia, making the likelihood of confusion between the two products more probable.

A search early Wednesday on the term "Scholar" on Google's flagship search site garnered results that place Google Scholar first and the ACS SciFinder Scholar sixth.