One can only assume that before Larry Page and Sergey Brin chose Alphabet as the name for their new holding company, they Googled it.
If so, they would have discovered that the Internet domain alphabet.com, as well as the trademark Alphabet, already belonged to someone else — the German automaker BMW. And if they had dialed BMW headquarters in Munich, they would have discovered something else: BMW does not want to sell.
Alphabet is the name that Page and Brin, Google’s founders, have given the new parent entity that will house the Google search business and several smaller holdings such as Nest, a maker of smart thermostats, and Calico, a company focused on longevity.
The name isn’t just causing waves with BMW. On Wall Street, there is an Alphabet Funds. Lots of midsize and small companies also use the name Alphabet. There is an Alphabet Energy in Hayward, Calif.; an Alphabet Record Co. in Austin, Texas; an Alphabet Plumbing in Prescott, Ariz.; and many preschools, inns and restaurants with some variation of the name.
For many, the brush with Google’s aura is an interesting curiosity.
“It’s quite flattering really,” said Steve Lockwood, the company secretary of Alphabet, a small recruitment and outsourcing firm in London. “We probably won’t put it on the agenda to sue them over it, but if they want to make us a very generous offer for our domain names, we’ll certainly consider it.”
Others had a problem with Google showing up as Alphabet.
“We do all of our business online, and Google could really affect us,” said Jennifer Blakeley, who in 2008 registered Alphabet Photography as an online retail store selling printed photos of buildings and natural formations that look like letters.
Yet legal action seems difficult.
“Who sues Google?” said Blakeley, who is based in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
At BMW, Alphabet is the name of a subsidiary that provides services to corporations with vehicle fleets. A BMW spokeswoman said Tuesday that the automaker was not informed ahead of time of plans by Page and Brin to create a company called Alphabet and had not received any offers to buy the Internet domain or the trademark.
“We are not planning to sell the domain,” said Micaela Sandstede, a BMW spokeswoman in Munich. She described the website as a “very active” part of Alphabet’s business.
BMW is examining whether any trademark infringement has occurred, Sandstede said.
Jason Adler, founder and chief executive of Alphabet Funds, a group of hedge funds in New York, already tried to buy alphabet.com but was unsuccessful. Adler founded Alphabet in 2007, and today it includes three hedge funds and is raising its first venture capital fund. The company was caught off guard when Google decided it also wanted to be called Alphabet.
“I’m getting blown up from all my investors and my friends,” he said. “They are sending me emails, all of them, and every one of them says the same thing: ‘Google took your name.’”
Just because one company uses a name does not mean another company cannot use it. Trademark infringement occurs if another company’s use could create confusion with consumers, according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Google declined to comment Tuesday.