Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Trademarks vs. search

American Airlines is blazing new grounds in the intersection of comparative advertising and search engine keywords.

AP reports:

American Airlines is suing Yahoo Inc. for trademark infringement, a case similar to one that the nation's largest airline settled this summer against Google Inc.

The airline complains that when computer users enter American's trademark terms such as AAdvantage, the name of its frequent-flier program, in a search they can be directed to competitors who pay Yahoo for the traffic.

American, a unit of Fort Worth-based AMR Corp., reached a confidential settlement of a similar lawsuit against Google this summer, also in federal court in Fort Worth.

Each side agreed to pay its own legal fees, and American got nothing from Google. But Google searches for "American Airlines" or "AAdvantage" no longer produce paid ads along the right side of the portal screen.

Google had prevailed in previous lawsuits filed by other companies over their paid search advertising practices using trademark terms.
It sounds like a) American has a good precedent to win against Yahoo b) Google’s plan is to deal with this ad hoc rather than change its policies.

A 2005 law review article notes that Google defeated previous efforts by insurance company Geico to block such comparative or competitive ads, and the policy doesn’t seem to have changed overall. According to the Google AdWords site, they don’t bother to monitor in the US/Canada/UK/Ireland for firms buying ad words on their competitors. These are specifically excluded from Google’s AdWords trademark violation complaint process.

As one disgruntled business owner asked Google (no response), “Am I right in saying that you are happy to sell my brand name for money?” I guess that unless your lawyers scare Google — or you live in a country where the government frowns on this — Google is glad to sell such ads.

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