On May 19, 2004, auto insurance company Geico sued Google and Overture for allegedly violating its trademarks in search-related advertisements, in the latest legal salvo against the Internet companies.
The insurer charged the two companies with infringing on its trademarks when they sold them as keywords to Geico’s rivals, so that the protected terms could appear in sponsored search results. According to the suit, that practice causes consumer confusion, in violation of the Lanham Act, the primary federal law covering trademark registration and protection.
This isn’t the first time Google, Overture or other PPC search engines get into legal trouble over keyword trademark infringement issues. This trend is actually expected to grow, as more and more companies discover the high conversion features of keywords using major brand names or trademarks.
Smart trademark owners have always been vigilant and continue to engage in all forms of trademark protection battles. However, with the number of trademark infringements involving branded keywords steadily increasing at an alarming rate, search engines have started to respond and take action.
Google and Overture now post on their websites specific copyright and trademark infringement complaint procedures, along with detailed instructions on how to go about this growing problem. Most search engines today will remove competitors’ paid listings of registered trademark owners who lodge an official infringement complaint.
Remember that it’s always the trademark owner’s responsibility to be vigilant and proactive. It isn’t the search engines’ mandate or their duty to police any of these actions. So, trademark owners, the time has come to protect your marketable assets.