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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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  • Heh... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by IronMagnus ( 777535 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @10:07AM (#27978657) [] 4th or 5th result when I searched for 'FirePond'
  • by nametaken ( 610866 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @10:10AM (#27978683)

    Yeah, except you'd have to expand that to "Google owns the building the dealership is in".

    People can't get around Google today. Or at least, nobody wants to. Google owns the search engine, google profits from the advertisers, google provides a place for people to questionably violate trademark for profit, google profits from this questionable behavior.

    It'll be interesting to see what happens.

  • by MoonBuggy ( 611105 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @10:24AM (#27978821) Journal

    Fair point, but I'm still inclined to believe Google is in the right here. Apart from anything else, the actual non-sponsored listings are not affected, and they're free; if I search for American Airlines the first real result is their website, at no cost to them whatsoever. The only cost is if a company demands to be top in the sponsored listings as well, and to block out the suggestion of their competitors' products.

    To warp a tenuous analogy even further: Google is like a department store. The customer enters and asks an assistant to direct them to the Armani suits. The assistant immediately shows them to the Armani section and while doing so also hands them a flyer suggesting they may also like to look at Gucci or Prada.

  • by StormReaver ( 59959 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @10:41AM (#27978957)

    > The primary focus is *not* protecting the trademark owner.
    > Trademark law is all about protecting consumers from being deceived about the source of goods/services.

    That is accomplished in part by protecting the integrity of the trademark. Google is allowing company A to advertise via explicit use of company B's trademark, which is illegal. There are only a few instances in advertising where using another company's trademark is allowed, and this isn't one of them. Using another company's trademark is so fraught with danger that most companies avoid it even when it is legal to do so. That's why commercials doing comparative advertising say things like, "the leading national brand" rather than naming the brand. They do so not because they're afraid of giving the competition free advertising (the leading national brand is already well known), but because they're afraid of getting sued for trademark infringement.

    This is something for which Google deserves to get slapped hard.

  • by multisync ( 218450 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @12:32PM (#27979733) Journal

    How is Google supposed to know a word is violating someone's trademark?

    They should hire someone to research these things.

    Okay, so does my local newspaper have to do an expensive trademark search on all of the copy in every advertisement they sell, or should that be the responsibility of the person placing the ad?

    What if I use a phrase in the copy of my ad that happens to be a registered trademark of one of my competitors. So the family-owned and operated local weekly newspaper I like to read - which competes, by the way, with large, corporate-owned media giants who own both daily newspapers, most of the other local weeklies and one of the TV stations - that local newspaper has to wear it? They have to keep someone on staff (if one could manage it for a small paper) and do a trademark search in all ads, including classifieds? Or pay a company to do it?

    Not the person running the ad, but the publication? You're sure?

    I don't think so.

    If anyone, this woman should be suing the companies who are purchasing the adsense words. But she won't, because that won't get big media coverage the way suing a giant like Google will.

"Tell the truth and run." -- Yugoslav proverb