April 16, 2004
Intellectual Property, Internet & E-Commerce Alerts

Google Declares War on Trademark Owners
by Cyrus Wadia

Google's gloves are off. The popular search company recently announced plans to allow U.S. and Canadian advertisers to bid on any keyword Google sells – including trademarked terms – as part of its lucrative keyword search advertising program. Google previously gave trademark owners such as eBay exclusive rights to their keywords, thus cutting off a valuable source of advertising revenue from other competitors who wanted to bid on those trademarked names and have their companies turn up in search results. But as the search engine wars heat up, Google has been taking an aggressive posture on the legally murky question of whether search engines can sell advertisements based on others' trademarks. Last November, Google asked a federal district court in San Jose to rule on the legality of its keyword service. With that case still pending, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in January permitted Playboy to go forward with a suit against Excite and Netscape for the similar sale of banner advertisements based on trademarked terms. But that case settled shortly thereafter, and Google's new policy could be the test case for the future of keyword search advertising around the globe.
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