Another lawsuit aimed and preventing the use of trademarked keywords was dropped this week. This time it was American Airlines who had filed a lawsuit against Google for allowing other to use their name to trigger the display of competitive ads.
According to Bloomberg:
American claimed Google violated its trademark by allowing competing airlines to bid on keyword searches that generate “sponsored link” ads on search-results Web pages. The ads take advantage of the American brand’s popularity, even if the name isn’t used in the ad, the carrier said.
Google settled similar suits by other U.S. companies before the untested area of trademark law could be addressed by a judge or jury. Foreign lawsuits still pose challenges to the advertising practice, part of Google’s AdWords program.
Courts in France have held Google liable for allowing advertisers to select trademarked terms as keywords, according to U.S. regulatory filings. Google, based in Mountain View, California, said it is handling or recently resolved similar cases in Germany, Israel, Italy, Austria and Australia.
Google had argued that its “invisible” use of trademarks isn’t technically “trademark use” under U.S. law. Google compared the program to practices such as placing generic drugs next to name brands in pharmacies and buying billboard ads next to those of competitors.
This last point is the reason I’ve never understood the merits of these suits. Trademark law is designed, in my very simple understanding, to prevent one company from confusing customers with a name that is similar (or identical) to another company.
Does buying a trademarked term as a keyword provide one company benefit from the name and reputation of another? Certainly. But isn’t that why all the car dealers rent space on the same block? Doesn’t it happen when magazines review all the products in one category together?
Every company in the world wants to steal customers and prospects from their competitors. Their efforts to do so yield better features, better pricing, and loads of other consumer benefits.
Using trademark protection to limit confusion benefits consumers. Using it to try and limit consumers knowledge and awareness of competition harms consumers, and should itself be illegal. Great to see a lawsuit go the right way.