Google sued over trademarked keywords

August 19, 2007

Now American Airlines has sued Google for allowing other advertisers to use it’s trademarks as keywords in pay per click advertising. The airline accuses Google of selling the right to use American Airlines’ trademarks and service marks or “words, phrases, or terms confusingly similar to those marks” to competitors who then direct searchers to their own web sites.

This isn’t the first time Google has faced such a lawsuit. Geico sued Google for the same reasons some time ago and lost, and apparently other cases are on the backburner.

This confuses me a little… We use Google extensively for PPC advertising and our highest converting keywords are our brand terms (as you’d expect). Every so often we find a rogue affiliate or competitor bidding on our brand name and we always report this to Google and they remove the offending adverts for us. To enable this kind of response we had to register our brand terms with Google. They don’t really police it actively but they do take down offending ads when asked.

So if the above is possible, why don’t American Airlines just ask for them to be taken down? I’m guessing that they expect Google to do this automatically and to not even allow the ads to appear in the first place. To enable that would be a hugely complex and time consuming development for Google and a fundamental change to the Adwords system. I’m guessing Google would rather not have to do that. But if American Airlines lose (like Geico) then surely Google should not be taking down our competitors ads (as it’s not been deemed illegal)?

Who knows! What I do know is that brand keyword advertising is very lucrative, it returns excellent ROI and is any search marketers meat and drink. Any threat to the way brand term advertising works could have a massive impact on Googles Adwords revenue. If lawsuits like this keep cropping up it is possible Google could ban advertising on trademarked terms for all to stem the tide of subpoenas, that would make PPC a much less attractive proposition!


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