Hugh Pickens writes "Google encourages advertisers to purchase other companies' trademarks as targeted search terms and they're expanding the practice into 190 countries so when Audrey Spangenberg typed the name of her small software company, into Google and saw the ads of competitors that had paid Google to display their marketing messages whenever someone searched for FirePond, a registered trademark, she was furious. This week her company filed a class-action suit against Google in federal court in Texas, saying that Google had infringed on her company's trademark and challenged Google's policies on behalf of all trademark owners in the state. Legal experts said it was the first class-action suit against Google over the issue. Google's acceptance of such competitive uses of trademarks has irked many other companies, including the likes of American Airlines and Geico, which have filed suits against Google and settled them. Many brand owners say the practice abuses their brands, confuses customers and increases their cost of doing business. "I know of several companies spending millions of dollars a year in payments to Google to make sure that their company is the very first sponsored link" on searches for their own names, said Terrence Ross, a partner at Gibson Dunn, who represented American Airlines in its suit against Google. "It certainly smacks of a protection racket.""