Google's keyword advertising "infringes" on trade marks
Buying keywords for online advertising is either fair game or a dirty business, depending on your point of view. If you're Google you don't get involved, despite the fact it's you selling the service; you simply shrug your shoulders and let the scraps between trade mark owners and competitors commence, while you pocket their coin.
Obviously, these trade marked companies aren't happy that anybody can bid on the same keywords and sell similar products; we recently reported on the case of M&S allegedly sponsoring the word “Interflora” (and several obvious spelling mistakes) as search engine keywords in Google’s AdWords programme.
That particular fight didn't involve Google; this one does. A French court has fined them €350,000 for allowing companies to infringe on two companies' trade marks. According to out-law.com, Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris has ordered Google to pay €200,000 to Voyageurs du Monde (Travellers of the World) and €150,000 to Terres d'Aventure (Lands of Adventure), despite the judge saying that the commercial harm to the companies was marginal.
Of course, Google have played the innocent party throughout, stating:
"Google's terms and conditions make clear that advertisers are responsible for their choice of keywords and warn against their unauthorised use. Google believes that our advertising services comply with French and European law on online advertising."
Interestingly, two similar disputes in Germany have made it all the way to the European Court of Justice, who have been asked to rule on whether or not buying a trade mark a keyword constitutes use of that trade mark. A ruling from the big boys could force Google to rethink its terms and conditions for online advertisers in the UK.