What?!? I Can Use My Competitor’s Name As A Search Engine Keyword?

This article was originally posted on Active Rain in September 2007.

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Breaking news in the world of search engine advertising — it was announced late last week that the plaintiff in a four year old case against Google has agreed to drop its claim that Google abuses trademarks by allowing business rivals to buy ads that appear when consumers search for information on a particular business.

Under the practice, a search request by a consumer for a specific business, like American Airlines, triggers ads from competitors which appear in sponsored positions around the search results.  These ads appear because the rival companies include portions of the target business’ name as keywords in their Adwords campaign.

American Blind & Wallpaper Factory, Inc., which sued Google over the practice, claimed that Google was using its trademarked name to send search engine visitors away from American Blind and to American Blind’s competitors.

One leading tech commentator called the settlement a “stunning victory for Google.”

Google has successfully defended its keyword policy several times in US courts, although the company has lost similar cases in Europe.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation (an advocacy and legal group that works to protect digital rights), and other similar groups, have weighed in strongly in favor of allowing trademarks to trigger sponsored links, arguing that such ads are good for consumers.

 What does this mean for you? At the moment, it means you can use your competitors’ trademarked terms (like their name) as part of your Adwords keywords.  Google clearly states its position in its trademark policy:  “Please note that we will not disable keywords in response to a trademark complaint.”

Of course, a recently filed case by American Airlines in the very conservative Texas courts might change this in the future, but as of today, trademarks are up for grabs in the world of search engine advertising keywords.  Tech commentators don’t think American Airlines will fare (pardon the pun) any better than American Blind, but you never know.  A big negative for the plaintiffs that bring these suits is that they have usually engaged in the same practices that they complain about in their lawsuits.  One thing is for sure — the American Airlines case was just filed last month in August and you can almost count on another four years before anything significant happens in that case.

A word of caution for Utah realtors – be aware that the practice of purchasing keywords on trademarks has been specifically outlawed by state law.  For everyone else, have at it!

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