Google wins latest round in brand names dispute

Google has won the latest round in a legal row against Louis Vuitton and other brand owners that are trying to stop the search engine from using their trademarks as paid for search terms.

An adviser to Europe’s highest court said this morning that selling phrases such as Louis Vuitton to businesses that want to appear next to Google’s main search results in the “sponsored links” section was acceptable under EU law.

Sponsored links, which appear in a segregated section to the right of standard Google results, are an important revenue driver for Google. Brand owners oppose them because they argue the system allows others to piggyback on their trademarks.

A common example would be a discount shoe retailer with no links to Louis Vuitton buying the phrase “Louis Vuitton shoes” so it will appear prominently on the Google page when someone searches for Louis Vuitton.

The brands also argue that many of the businesses buying key words are selling replica or counterfeit versions of their brands.

But Advocate-General Poiares Maduro said in his legal opinion to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) that “Google has not committed a trademark infringement by allowing advertisers to select keywords corresponding to trademarks.”

He said that Google’s sponsored links did establish a link between keywords and the advertised sites selling products identical or similar to those covered by the trademarks.

“However, such a link also does not constitute a trademark infringement. In effect, the mere display of relevant sites in response to keywords is not enough to establish a risk of confusion on the part of consumers as to the origin of goods or services,” he said.

“Internet users are aware that not only the site of the trademark owner will appear as a result of a search in Google’s search engine and sometimes they may not even be looking for that site.”

Adrian Heath-Saunders, a partner at law firm Wedlake Bell, said: “This opinion, if followed by the court, will be a major defeat for brand owners and would mark victory in Europe for Google’s sponsored links business.”

“From Google’s point of view the significance of such a ruling cannot be overstated. The threat of losing substantial revenue streams appears to have been averted and the prospect of Google being besieged by brand owners claiming damages for trade mark infringement has all but vanished.”

The case will return to the ECJ later this year when a full panel of judges will decide the outcome. The ECJ follows the initial opinions in about 80 per cent of cases.

The ECJ was asked to decide the issue after a French court ruled in favour of Louis Vuitton.

(Published by Times Online - September 22, 2009)


latest top stories

subscribe |  contact us |  sponsors |  migalhas in portuguese |  migalhas latinoamérica