Philip K. Dick's estate threatens Google

Nexus One, the new cellphone from HTC and Google, is named in homage to the the Nexus series of androids in Philip K. Dick's novel "Do Andoids Dream of Electric Sheep," filmed as "Blade Runner." Dick's estate's response? It's threatened Google. Names can't be copyrighted, so the vague legal mutterings imply a trademark fight. As there are hundreds of live trademarks for the term "Nexus" -- one filed by Google last month! -- this'll be a fun one.


  1. IP abuses like this are exactly why nobody respects IP law. If Google were selling replicants, then Dick’s daughter might have a valid case. They’re not, so she doesn’t. Lawyers who bring nuisance lawsuits need to be held accountable, or this will only get worse.

    1. Dick’s daughter? Laura or Isolde? Doesn’t his son Christopher have a say? Given what PKD’s personal life was like, I wouldn’t be surprised if his estate were completely out of control with conflicting interests, etc.

  2. Nexus is an English language word:

    n. pl. nexus or nex·us·es
    1. A means of connection; a link or tie.
    2. A connected series or group.
    3. The core or center.

    In PKD’s novel, Nexus was a model of synthetic human, an android (another English word). In Google’s product, Nexus is a smartphone. I’m pretty sure there’s no “likelihood of confusion” to base an infringement suit on, but IANAL.

  3. Meh? Google apparently named the device exactly after the humanoid in Dick’s story and are going to make a bunch of money off it. It’s not like Google was paying homage to a shampoo.

  4. If they called it the Nexus Six, I might see Dick’s estate having a leg to stand on.

    I’m always mortified by the lengths some death authors’ families go to to milk their work…Frank Herbert’s son is at the top of this list of d-bags IMHO, but he’s far from alone.

    1. “Frank Herbert’s son is at the top of this list of d-bags IMHO”

      slightly off topic, but I was at a Dragon-Con in atlanta once, tripping in an elevator with Brian Herbert right next to me trying to hit on this chick by selling himself as his father’s son. “So…yeah…Frank Herbert was my dad….” a paraphrase, but that’s the gist of what I remember. and she was having none of it.

      terribly strange experience on acid.

  5. Gee, last I heard the Estate of Phillip K. Dick WASN’T IN THE CELLPHONE BUSINESS, so they have no cause of action.

  6. Has Isa Dick Hackett ever done anything with her life other than leech a living off of her father’s works?

    I honestly don’t know the answer to that question, but behavior like this does not put her in a favorable light. It isn’t like PKD invented the word…

  7. Seba Smith first coined the expression counting sheep in “Way Down East; or portraitures of Yankee Life”.

    The word Android was immortalize by Auguste Villers de l’isle Adam in “Tomorrow’s Eve”

    Funny that Philip K. Dick can borrow from two authors in his title alone, and then his family object when a 3rd entity borrows from him.

  8. Motorola probably whetted Ms. Dick’s appetite when they paid Lucasfilm a bunch of money to use the name “Droid” for their phone. The key difference is that nobody used the word “Droid” before “Star Wars,” whereas the words “Android” and “Nexus” have been around much longer than P.K.D’s novel.

  9. The problem is, by using this name so closely associated with their “android” operating system, they’re clearly making a reference to the movie (at least in my mind). They want customers to draw the connection.

    Not sure it would give rise to a trademark infringement claim, however, an unfair competition claim for false association might not be out of the question.

    In any event, I think it’s shady. Come up with your own names, Google. Show a little creativity.

    1. How dare the folks at google be literate and try to express their admiration for Philip Dick’s work?

    2. I absolutely agree.. As someone who loves PKD’s work and listen’s to the DADOES about once a month I came to the same conclusion. It is absolutely in your head. I never once made the connections since the cell phone is neither trying to kill me nor does it do any of the promised things Pris’ model could(would) do. :-)

      In all seriousness paying homage doesn’t necessarily mean they want to draw a connection between the two. Just that as fans they enjoy his work. I named my cat Mr. Mojo Risin but in no way should my cat be confused for a junkie singer who did so much heroin that it killed him.

  10. Not that I think PKD’s estate really has a case — but while “Nexus” isn’t a novel word, naming an “Android” phone “Nexus One” probably isn’t just coincidence…

  11. That’s OK, they could try “Lexus” . . . oh wait, that’s been used already . . . by a porn star.

  12. Has Google publicly stated that they named it after the characters in the book?

    (Seriously asking, I don’t know and haven’t seen any statements from them to that effect.)

  13. Interesting tidbit: Verizon Wireless actually licensed the ‘Droid’ name from “Star Wars” creator and director George Lucas when it recently launched a Motorola Inc. smart phone with that name.

    From WSJ:

    “We were honored that Verizon chose to name their newest technological venture the DROID smart phone, and we were happy to grant them a license to use the mark,” said a spokeswoman for Mr. Lucas’s company, Lucasfilm Ltd.

    So Dick’s lawyers may not be completely barking up the wrong tree, given the existing precedent.

  14. So what other PKD-inspired products are planned by replicant ad-men? I’m hoping for SubstanceD by Squibb, or a Sony Screamer.

  15. It doesn’t make a damned bit of difference if it was named as a reference in a reference in a dead author novel. The copyright madness needs to stop. The dude is fucking dead. So what if a company plays a subtle word game paying homage to a dead author? It isn’t even a freaking made up word. “Nexus” is a real word. Dick’s corpse doesn’t get to lay claim to the use of the word for all pieces of technology from now until his bones finish decomposing.

    The point of copyright law is to at least according to the constitution, to “promote the useful arts”. Not let blood sucking relatives of dead authors tax any references to cultural icons. There is nothing about this that promote the useful arts.

  16. I use to have a potbellied pig, named Floyd, I am building a website dedicated to him, “” Sure the background color of the site is pink, but other than that, no references. Should I worry if I profit from the site, I don’t think I would, unless I started to somehow generate bizillions of dollars from it, then I could see a swarm of ugly little lawyers swoop in like greasy vultures. I think this battle will be won by whoever can afford the most of the vermin.

    1. Note: Technically Dick’s estate is making a dubious trademark claim, not a copyright claim. Not the same thing.

      The copyrights should die with the creator.

      That would create a pretty perverse motive for murdering copyright holders. I would prefer some fixed period of time that ensures that the author will have plenty of time to reap the benefits of their work during their lifetime (say 50 years or so).

  17. And yet Google tries to sue Froogle, Spoogle, Doogle, and anything with a similar sounding name…

  18. Fortunately, the phrase “a new life awaits in the offworld colonies” appears only in the movie and not the book, otherwise the estate might be coming after Boing Boing for their videogames sub-site next.

  19. “Authors’ estates shouldn’t exist. The copyrights should die with the creator.”

    Rich people’s estates shouldn’t exist. J.D. Rockefeller’s fortune should have been given away when he died.

  20. In the Vatta’s War series by Elizabeth Moon, there’s a planet named Nexus II. It’s the headquarters of the company that has a monopoly on ansible technology.

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