Creating business websites & Google advertising to boost your sales

Google Sued Over Trademark Advertising

Jun 1st, 2009 | By | Category: Advertising

Google’s policy is to allow any advertiser to buy keywords that include their competitor’s trademark. This has triggered an class action suit against Google, according to the New York Times article by Michael Helft. In the past, Google has sometimes disapproved ads that use the competitors name in the text when the trademark holder has filed an objection.

This is what happened to Viking Volvo. This Santa Rosa auto repair shop specializes in Volvos, but Google would not let me put Volvo in the text ad. I could create ads that came up on the search term “Volvo repair,” but the ad itself could not say “Volvo repair.” The campaign results were disappointing and soon abandoned.

Artistic Wine Cellars was furious to discover that a low-cost competitor was advertising on their name. Their domain is ArtisticCellars.com, so I registered ArtisticWINEcellars.com for them also. They trademarked the name, wrote to Google, and asked the offending party to cease advertising on their name. A few months later, a different competitor contacted them, complaining that the Artistic ad came up on a search of the competitor’s name.

At the client’s request, I removed the competitor’s name from the keyword list (the words that trigger ads) and I was relieved that the owner of Artistic Wine Cellars found it uproariously funny that this competitor was advertising on Artistic’s name! He had a few choice words to say about the competitor’s honesty over the years.

Artistic Wine Cellars does not like the Google policy. They agree with Terrence Ross, a partner at Gibson Dunn, that Google’s extracting higher advertising charges in order to get the top result for your own name, “certainly smacks of a protection racket.”

The New York Times points out that defenders of Google’s practice say it is good for cosumers. People who are shopping for a new camera, for example, will benefit from seeing an ad for a competing, and perhaps cheaper, product that theymight not have known about. A key way for a new business to encroach on the market share of a larger company is to advertising on their brand name.

Is this really different from the Yellow Pages, where all the auto glass repair companies are listed in the same column? The policy change at Google bring it in line with Microsoft and Yahoo, which allow similar uses of trademarks in the text ads. “It is a pretty well established principle in the offline world and in the online world,” said Terri Chen, senior trademark counsel at Google.”

“They are pouring fuel on the fire,” said Eric Goldman of Santa Clara University Law School. “Google is making it harder to control the use of their trademarks online.” Eric Goldman’s blog discusses several lawsuits against Google in this matter.

What do you think? Should businesses continue to use their competitor’s trademarks as keywords to trigger ads?

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