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Lawsuit Says Google's Sale of Keywords Is Illegal 247

Hugh Pickens writes "Google encourages advertisers to purchase other companies' trademarks as targeted search terms, and they're expanding the practice into 190 countries. 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, 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, who 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,'"
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Lawsuit Says Google's Sale of Keywords Is Illegal

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  • by langelgjm ( 860756 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @10:24AM (#27978811) Journal

    Trademark law is all about protecting consumers from being deceived about the source of goods/services.

    In theory, yes, but in practice (as you probably know, since you know what initial interest confusion is), that's not the reality. IIRC, consumers don't even have standing to sue in a case of trademark infringement. Maybe they can sue for false advertising, but it's the trademark owner who has to bring the lawsuit for infringement.

    Besides, with the expansion of trademark due to the notion of "dilution", and the licensing of trademarks for purposes other than source-identification (sponsorship, etc. - the stadium doesn't come from M&T Bank), it's hard to argue that trademark is all about protecting consumers, or even mostly about it anymore.

    In 1-800 Contacts v. WhenU, [] WhenU didn't run into trouble because their ads popped up in a separate window. That's not the case with Google (though they do clearly say "Sponsored Link"). WhenU was also not found to be "using" the trademark (despite including it in a database), because "use" of a trademark for the purpose of infringement has to be in commerce, and simply using the mark in a database didn't count as such.

  • by FlyingBishop ( 1293238 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @10:32AM (#27978897)

    How do you know you want Pepsi? Maybe you've just never tasted Coke before.

    Sometimes, when I do a Google search, I'm looking for a website I've already visited. In that case, this advertising is pointless.

    Most of the time, I'm doing a Google search to find a solution to a problem. I need a widget, and I go searching for ACME, since I know they're a fine provider of widgets. I do not, however, know a lot about widgets. So I would be quite pleased to see a variety of results about different widgets.

    Furthermore, I don't usually read the supported ads except in the case where I might be looking for a few products to compare.

  • by Xaoswolf ( 524554 ) <Xaoswolf@gm a i l .com> on Saturday May 16, 2009 @01:55PM (#27980293) Homepage Journal
    The associate shows me Gucci because Gucci paid the department store to misdirect anyone looking for Armani to instead be shown Gucci.

    You must be new to the internet. Let me help you out a little. When you use Google, they provide both search results, and ads. The search results are the ones that you normally want to look at after a search. Those are the equivalent to the nice associate giving you the information on how to find Armani. The flier that the associate hands you is the equivalent to a targeted ad. You still get your search result. You are also given an ad.

Happiness is twin floppies.