What?!? I Can Use My Competitor’s Name As A Search Engine Keyword???

Real Estate Agent with Silicon Beach Properties • KW CalBRE #01712960

Breaking news in the world of search engine advertising -- it was announced late last week that the plaintiff in a four year old case against Google has agreed to drop its claim that Google abuses trademarks by allowing business rivals to buy ads that appear when consumers search for information on a particular business.

Under the practice, a search request by a consumer for a specific business, like American Airlines, triggers ads from competitors which appear in sponsored positions around the search results.  These ads appear because the rival companies include portions of the target business' name as keywords in their Adwords campaign.

American Blind & Wallpaper Factory, Inc., which sued Google over the practice, claimed that Google was using its trademarked name to send search engine visitors away from American Blind and to American Blind's competitors.

One leading tech commentator called the settlement a "stunning victory for Google."

Google has successfully defended its keyword policy several times in US courts, although the company has lost similar cases in Europe.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation (an advocacy and legal group that works to protect digital rights), and other similar groups, have weighed in strongly in favor of allowing trademarks to trigger sponsored links, arguing that such ads are good for consumers.

 What does this mean for you?  At the moment, it means you can use your competitors' trademarked terms (like their name) as part of your Adwords keywords.  Google clearly states its position in its trademark policy:  "Please note that we will not disable keywords in response to a trademark complaint." 

Of course, a recently filed case by American Airlines in the very conservative Texas courts might change this in the future, but as of today, trademarks are up for grabs in the world of search engine advertising keywords.  Tech commentators don't think American Airlines will fare (pardon the pun) any better than American Blind, but you never know.  A big negative for the plaintiffs that bring these suits is that they have usually engaged in the same practices that they complain about in their lawsuits.  One thing is for sure -- the American Airlines case was just filed last month in August and you can almost count on another four years before anything significant happens in that case.

A word of caution for Utah realtors - be aware that the practice of purchasing keywords on trademarks has been specifically outlawed by state law.  For everyone else, have at it!

Posted by



Tracy Thrower Conyers
Silicon Beach Properties • KW, CalBRE #01712960
m: 424.272.1339 | w: www.SiliconBeach.properties

buy. sell. lease. residential in silicon beach.

Comments (6)

Cory Potter
Fidelity Mortgage Services, Inc. - Orlando, FL
Thank you for this informative post.  Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is gaining steam as a viable marketing strategy among individuals (whereas companies have been keen on SEO for awhile).
Sep 05, 2007 03:45 PM
Tracy Thrower Conyers
Silicon Beach Properties • KW - Venice, CA
buy. sell. lease. residential in silicon beach.
Yes, Cory, a good search engine advertising consultant can certainly show individual agents tips and tricks for competing with the big guys in the wild world of SEM.  Hint:  don't compete head to head.  Niche your business and your advertising.  Thanks for stopping by and highlighting that important point!
Sep 05, 2007 03:49 PM
Charlottesville, VA
Tracy, this is stunning! Think about it this way, if I put "Goodyear Tires" in a print ad, I beleive I would get a call from a lawyer within 24 hours.... not that I sell tires! lol
Sep 05, 2007 11:46 PM
Tracy Thrower Conyers
Silicon Beach Properties • KW - Venice, CA
buy. sell. lease. residential in silicon beach.
You probably could expect just such a call, Charles.  Isn't that why we call it the wild wild web?  Seriously, though, the difference is that on the web your ad appears in a designated section for sponsored ads and there is little danger that consumers will confuse you with Goodyear.  But confusion or not, it is pretty darned powerful that you have a chance to siphon off your competitor's potential customers with a clever ad within spitting distance of their name when the consumer asked for them and not you.
Sep 06, 2007 01:00 AM
Shannon Lefevre
John R. Wood Properties - Naples, FL
Shannon Lefevre, PA Your Naples Smart Girl
There's a bully in our market who's told us we're in trademark violation for having paid search terms for their developments.  If I'm not in Utah is that right?
Sep 25, 2007 04:11 AM
Tracy Thrower Conyers
Silicon Beach Properties • KW - Venice, CA
buy. sell. lease. residential in silicon beach.

Write the developer and ask him/her/it to tell you why the Google case doesn't apply.  They may be either unaware of this new outcome or ignoring it, but bringing it to their attention will likely shut them up.  You can also point out to them that Google doesn't have a problem with the practice and cite the Google Terms Of Service provision I mentioned above.  What the TOS means is that the developer could lodge a complaint with Google about your practice and Google will tell them to pound sand.  That's how Google ended up as the defendant in the American Blind case.

The developer should be ecstatic that you're grabbing people interested in their developments and likely showing these people related properties. 

If your letter doesn't work, it's time to contact a local trademark attorney, specifically one well-versed in Internet trademark issues.

Sep 25, 2007 01:14 PM