Corporate Eye

Google, Keywords, and Trademarks – French Companies Cry Foul

gavelNews is making its way across the Internet today about two French companies that are suing Google because their trademarked names were purchased as search ad keywords through the Google AdWords program by the companies’ competitors, and ads were served by those competitors when people typed the trademarked names into Google. 

The two companies, Voyageurs du Monde and Terres d’Aventure, are suing for significant sums of money according to The Register, despite the fact that a judge has already determined that the loss of business to both companies as a result of the served ads based on those trademarked keywords was very marginal.  Apparently, two other companies have won similar suits against Google in France the past, Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy and Meridien Hotels.

Of course, Google claims it follows all French laws, but regardless of the legalities, which will be determined in a court of law, the cases do bring up an interesting point from a branding perspective.  Can a company really claim that their trademarks apply to keyword search words or phrases?  Way back in the early days of the Internet when meta keywords were all the rage, and the only way search engines found web sites, everyone stuffed their meta data with competitor brand names, company names, and so on.  Of course, that was before Google started to crackdown on that kind of keyword stuffing.  The process has now evolved to purchasing other brand names as keywords through search advertising programs like Google’s AdWords.  Can a company really claim that it’s a trademark violation? 

What do you think?  I can certainly see both sides of the argument, but I do wonder how Google would monitor something like this if it were determined by a court of law to be a trademark infringement.  Should the onus be put on Google as the traffic cop, so to speak, or should the companies that purchased the keywords be the ones to get penalized? 

So now I’ll put this one up for debate.  What do you think?  Should Google hold part of the blame?  Should Google be found innocent and keyword advertising be allowed to run free?  I’m leaning toward allowing the free market to play itself out and may the best brand win.  While purchasing competitors’ brand names for Google keyword search advertising might verge on unethical, I’m having a hard time believing it’s a trademark infringement, but I’m not a lawyer.

Your thoughts…

Image: Flickr

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for Entrepreneur.com and Forbes.com, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as MSNBC.com, BusinessWeek.com, TodayShow.com, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.
 
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