As Geek Trivia readers well know, trademarks are funny things, giving rise to all manner of odd behavior, and nowhere is this moreso than in the entertainment industry. Via product placement, advertisers pay top dollar for fictional characters to be seen or heard using their real-world products or services — so long as those brands are portrayed in a reasonably favorable manner. If TV or movie producers aren’t intent on painting these brands in a shiny, happy light, filmmakers often have to make up their own fictional products and companies — unless they snag one from the unofficial fictional brand vault.

That’s right, there is something of an open-source pool of brands and trademarks that have made their way into various productions over the years, filling in for companies that might not care for the treatment they’d receive in certain Hollywood plots. The prime example of this is Oceanic Airlines, which has of late been made famous by the genre-bending TV drama Lost. Oceanic was the operator of the airliner that crashed in the Lost pilot, trapping the show’s ensemble cast of castaways on a mysterious, destiny-warping island.

Understandably, no real-world airline would want to become associated with a wildly disastrous crash that either killed its passengers or trapped them in what may be a quasi-time-travel version of purgatory. What most Lost fans don’t realize is that Oceanic Airlines has been around Hollywood for far longer than Lost was a glimmer in J.J. Abrams’ eye, serving as the go-to fake airline for many a passenger jet reference or — quite often — a crash.

The first documented appearance of Oceanic was in an episode of Flipper in 1965 — though most modern non-Lost appearances come from stock footage licensed from the 1996 film Executive Decision. The latter shots crop up in several low-budget TV movies.

Heisler beer, Morley Cigarettes, and Gannon Car Rentals are other shared, unreal brands that have circulated around Tinseltown in unrelated projects. Of late, however, a new product type has emerged on the plot-device scene — the search engine. Even though Google is now a verb, the “Don’t be evil” folks look unkindly on characters using the search engine for nefarious — or at least unlicensed — purposes on-screen. Thankfully, the unofficial fictional brand vault has a budding Google substitute that TV shows can turn to.

WHAT FICTIONAL SEARCH ENGINE HAS BECOME AN UNOFFICIAL HOLLYWOOD SUBSTITUTE FOR GOOGLE ON TELEVISION?

Get the answer.

What fictional search engine has appeared in multiple, unaffiliated Hollywood television shows, effectively becoming an unofficial, open source stand-in for Google and its competitors?

The make-believe search engine is Finder-Spyder, which has made appearances in each of the following television programs:

  • Breaking Bad, in the episode “The Cat’s in the Bag”
  • Criminal Minds, in the episode “Pleasure Is My Business”
  • Crossing Jordan, in the episodes “The Hangman” and “Hubris”
  • CSI, in the episodes “Meet Market” and “Time of Your Death”
  • Hidden Palms, in the episode “Party Hardy”
  • Journeyman, in the episodes “A Love of a Lifetime,” “The Legend of Dylan McCleen,” and “The Year of the Rabbit”
  • Moonlight, in the episode “12:04 AM”
  • Prison Break, in the episodes “Dirt Nap,” “J-Cat,” “The Legend,” “Safe and Sound,” “Unearthed,” and the pilot

Finder-Spyder also reputedly has made appearances in the shows Without a Trace and Dexter, but it is perhaps most notorious for its decidedly Google-like color scheme and logo as shown in Journeyman. That’s a bit daring, as Google is rather explicit in its trademark-protection philosophy, going so far as declaring “don’t copy or imitate Google’s trade dress, including the look and feel of Google web design properties or Google brand packaging, distinctive color combinations, typography, graphic designs, product icons, or imagery associated with Google” and “don’t adopt marks, logos, slogans, or designs that are confusingly similar to our Brand Features.”

In fact, you can’t even sound like Google, according to the company’s trademark policy: “That includes modifying a Google trademark, for example, through hyphenation, combination or abbreviation, such as: Googliscious, Googlyoogly, GaGooglemania. Do not shorten, abbreviate, or create acronyms out of Google trademarks.” So for those of you planning a sitcom about coders at a fictional search engine called Gobbledygoogle, best hit the find-replace hotkey on your word processor right now.

If you were staring down a multibillion-dollar media powerhouse that was touchy about movie supervillains using its Web site to plot world domination, you’d make up a fictional search engine, too. That’s not some sage Web-search substitution; it’s a cinematically self-referencing slice of Geek Trivia.

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