Google Scheduled to Change Trademark Policy

Posted by on May 28, 2009 in Legal Matters for Business, Marketing, Patents and Trademarks [ 0 Comments ]

Google’s new trademark policy, which will allow in certain circumstances the use of registered trademark names by non-trademark holders within an ad copy, will become effective on June 15th, 2009. Under Google’s current trademark policy, trademark names can be used without restrictions only in keyword lists. Trademark holders can request that Google bar the use of their trademarks in ad copies.

Under the new policy, however, resellers of a trademarked product and sellers of component parts to the product or product accessories will be able to use the trademarked names without restrictions. Unimpeded use of trademarks will also be extended to informational reviews and articles or written content providing general information about a trademarked product.

While it is true that Google’s more permissive policy will likely result in increased sales, trademarked companies still remain worried about the effect of having their brand names used by Internet advertising services.

Last Thursday, Google employee Dan Friedman wrote a statement on the company’s web site saying that Google’s decision was fueled by a desire to fall in line with the rest of the industry. “We are adjusting our trademark policy in the U.S. to allow some ads to use trademarks in the ad text,” Friedman wrote. “This change will bring Google’s policy on trademark use in ad text more in line with the industry standard.”

Previously, Google had maintained a strict rule of not selling trademarked terms as keywords. This was because the sale of such search terms to rival companies would enable some companies to use the trademarks in their ad copies so that related searches would pull up more links to the rivals’ web sites than links to the web site of the actual trademark owner. In other words, rivals could use a competitor’s trademark.

Such a case, many argue, could prove disastrous for companies that have spent years building up the popularity of their trademarks. At the same time, a set up like this would be incredibly profitable for Google, which does not distinguish between trademark owner and rival when looking for the highest bidder of a search keyword.

As part of its impetus for changing its trademark policy, Google cited the current policy’s inability to allow companies that sell multiple brands of products to use the name of their own brands in their purchased Google advertisements. This means that if you are a phone system provider, you can advertise specific types of phone systems in your ad copy. The new policy will also allow individuals who “don’t own a trademark, or who don’t have explicit approval from the trademark owner, to use it” under certain circumstances. These new parameters for trademark use, wrote Google’s Friedman, “will help you [i.e. advertisers] to create more narrowly targeted ad text that highlights your specific inventory.”

Google is offering to investigate any claims of trademark abuse by trademark owners. However, it has stated that advertisers are ultimately liable for the keywords they decide to employ in their advertisements. Google will begin taking ads containing trademarked terms this Friday.

The news of Google’s new policy change have many industry insiders worried that the move will inevitably result in a slew of legal battles. Already Google’s announcement comes at the heels of recent lawsuits filed against the Internet giant. The first of these was filed by the sales management software maker Firepond, who argued that Google should not be allowed to sell keywords containing a company’s trademark to competitors.

A similar lawsuit filed by Rescucom against Google was revived in April 2009 after having been dismissed in court in 2006. American Airlines also sued Google in 2007, claiming that by selling the keyword “American Airlines” to others, Google was letting people “seek a free ride on the reputation and goodwill” of the American Airlines name.

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