A DISPUTE over a very large number of zeroes is threatening to distract attention from a $2.7 billion stock sale by the internet search engine Google.
News of the deal has brought a threat of legal action from the family of Professor Edward Kasner, who invented the word "googol" in the 1930s to describe a very big number. He wrote about the concept in a 1940 book, describing a googol as the number one followed by a hundred zeroes.
Kasner’s great-niece, Peri Fleisher, now insists that the US-based company has gained financially at the expense of the family. She said: "If we do have a legal right, we’re certainly going to exercise that. And now is the time."
However, experts in intellectual property said that bringing a successful legal action would be problematic. "It would be an uphill struggle to try to assert any legitimate claim," said David Gourlay, a senior associate at the Dundas and Wilson Technology Group.
Gillian Cameron, a partner in the intellectual property and technology department at Maclay, Murray & Spens, said: "They would have to show the family had used the word as a trademark and it had somehow been misappropriated, which doesn’t appear to be the case.
"Or they could argue that Google were piggy-backing on the goodwill of the mathematician, and somehow people associated googol with Mr Kasner," he added. "Again, this would be doubtful.
"It’s unlikely they would succeed here and US law in this area is not so different, over there.
"However, it’s not unknown for companies to settle an action, rather than have the threat of litigation hanging around."