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Google Fined for Trademarked AdWords Text



1:00 pm on Oct 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator brett_tabke is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month


The Lower Court of Nanterre required Google France to pay 70,000 euros (about $81,400) to two companies that owned the rights to certain words. Google France sold the use of these words to advertisers through its AdWords program. AdWords permits individuals and companies to place advertisements on the Google home page that appear when a specific search term is used.


1:03 pm on Oct 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Company 1 and 2 claimed intellectual property rights in "bourse des vols" and "bourse des voyages," which roughly translate to travel market and airflight market.

LOL. :) No wonder G wants to hold on to them.


1:06 pm on Oct 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member shak is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

"Google will appeal the court's decision. As this is an on-going legal matter, we cannot provide further comment." I got the above from a Google Spokesperson...



2:48 pm on Oct 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

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This post looks familiar.


3:01 pm on Oct 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Good luck to Google. Anyone who tries to do business in France has my admiration!


3:03 pm on Oct 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator bakedjake is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I actually had dinner with Declan last night here in Cleveland (he's up teaching a class). He mentioned this, but I hadn't heard about it.

This case sort of shifts the burden from the advertiser to Google to investigate trademark disputes, doesn't it? I wonder if they're at all prepared to deal with that, or if the problem will work itself out.


3:04 pm on Oct 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

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LOL Tom Waits.

Google will *never* comment on this Shak.


4:01 pm on Oct 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

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well, sounds somewhat peculiar, but then, German Telekom already tried to secure intellectual property rights to the letter "t".
It lost its case against "t3 medien" though.
I'm happy they did - otherwise German keyboards would have had to do without this letter in the future and possibly more - if any other companies followed suit!
Could be quite a good business idea to patent all the vowels!



2:01 am on Oct 18, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Actually - bourse des vols roughly translates to air travel and bourse des voyages as travel market - the reverse of the originally published article.

These seem like pretty general words to have trademarked. What if Expedia trademarked "Air Travel" or MS trademarked "Windows". Would everyone have to shop for "transparent plates of silica"?


8:32 am on Oct 18, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Don't forget you are talking about a country that has a tax for businesses who use English words in their names, and even though there is no French word for "parking", they want to prohibit the use of that word on road signs, preferring to force everyone to use a phrase which goes something like "the park of cars"

Don't expect any logic from the French courts :)


8:45 am on Oct 18, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Hmm I'm myself in a suit over a trademarked two word phrase that's verbatim in the oxford english dictionary. Doesn't make any sense, as it describes a type of item, and shouldn't be trademarkable. Try explaining that to the judge though :(

Sometimes it seems that in the legal preofession the law goesright out the window...



2:18 pm on Oct 18, 2003 (gmt 0)

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My French is rusty, but I don't think that 'bourse' translates into 'market', but rather 'exchange'. I notice that Google translates one of the sites involved into 'Stock exchange for flights'. So it seems that the travel agency involved has managed to register the French equivalent of "Air Exchange" and "Travel Exchange" as trade marks. The analogy would be for someone to register the French equivalent of "Stock Exchange" as trade mark and I doubt that the French Patents Office would accept something as generic as that.

One way around this would be for Google to challenge the registration itself. Another to go the same legal route as they have before - i.e. freedom of speech.

But perhaps more interestingly is how this thing works out with Google's own terms of service, which state that you cannot advertise for somebody else's trade mark unless you have a business relationship with that party. At least, that is what they said when I signed up in early 2002. Has that been discontinued in the wake of expanded broad matches?


1:10 am on Oct 20, 2003 (gmt 0)

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My understanding is that currently, anyone can basically buy any word, or phrase, as an Adwords trigger word. Sure - the fine print says you won't buy trademarks - but the process allows you to do so (ie Google doesn't generally check).

So - you can happily buy eg your competitors brand names - and use those searches to trigger your adverts.

When the competitor wakes up and realises whats happening, and calls Google - Google advises that you are required to send a letter, on company letter head (ie snail mail) - signed by an authorised officer of the company - outlining the situation in full to Google. If your 'case' appears to have merit - the contested trademark gets added onto a 'blocked words' list, so it can't be used as a trigger word.

This French case appears to set the onus of checking trademarks back on Google - not on the aggrieved trademark holder. Which is potentially a huge burden on Google - and will potentially delay 'approval' of adwords campaigns by days/ weeks. Just like it does currently with 'adult' trigger words like betting - as some words are not available as trigger words in eg Germany & Australia due to Government Legislation - so Google is forced to check them.

Sydney Australia


4:25 pm on Oct 20, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Well, is there a way to find which words a business can't use? Example : Can A person use a keyword like microsoft to place his ad at adwords? I think the answer is simple NO NOW.

The question now is: is Google the only one punished/punishable or teh advertiser is also punishable under law?

If yes, I come back to my question, how does one check if he can use that particular keyword or not?


4:52 pm on Oct 20, 2003 (gmt 0)

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It's a very difficult balance for Google. So, if Apple bidded on 'Microsoft Windows', Microsoft would probably take action. Then again, if a little shop bidded on 'Microsoft Windows' and actually sold Windows on their ecommerce site - Microsoft would be perfectly happy as long as it is genuine software.

This makes it exceptionally difficult for Google (Overture, ESpotting etc...)


10:18 pm on Oct 20, 2003 (gmt 0)

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According to this article, the company asked Overture, E-spotting and Google France to remove the offending ads. Overture and E-spotting complied, but Google France did not (and landed in court). Here is the article link:


[edited by: Shak at 10:22 pm (utc) on Oct. 20, 2003]


7:31 am on Oct 21, 2003 (gmt 0)

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According to that silicon dot com article and a similar one in the Boston Globe, it’s not necessarily an issue of the advertiser buying the trademark as a keyword/s. That’s pretty clearly illegal anywhere. Google was ordered to stop displaying sponsored links whenever the trademark is embedded in any search query. For example at present if an advertiser purchases the words “shiny bright widgets” then a search for “shiny bright trademark widgets” will likely return Adwords results for that advertiser …the French court ruling is that this is not allowed. Sounds like Google will have to get the DB for all trademarks and check against this before displaying Adwords in a result.


3:18 pm on Oct 21, 2003 (gmt 0)

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I'm not sure that I follow you there - why would it be illegal to use a trade-marked term as a Google keyword? Seems to me that companies (here in the UK) would regularly use the names of competitors and their trademarks in newspapar/magazine advertising.

A classic example of this would be UK banks, who will often compare their interest rates with those of their competitors. These ads are printed and are not seen as being "illegal" - not sure why the rules should be interpreted any differently on the internet.

If my ad reads: "buy widgets cheaper than x" and x (a trade-marked term) is sold at a higher price by the manufacturer of x, then I don't see that my ad should cause a problem.


5:29 am on Oct 22, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Bazza 9, I agree with you that using a competitor trademark ™ for comparative purposes in an advertisement is legal in most countries and also a common practice. Likewise if you could manage to squeeze a comparison into the body or title of an Adwords ad together with the ™, that shouldn’t be a problem either. The topic here is however about the usage of that ™ to trigger the appearance of a competitors advertisement when a user searches for information using the ™ as the search term.

A few years back some folks were using the meta keyword tags for much the same purpose in that a search on their competitors ™ brought back results that prominently included their own web pages. That practice has already been judged in the courts of the US and several European countries as trademark dilution and an infringement on the owner’s intellectual property. I don't know whether the IP issue has also been tested in the courts for pay per click keywords but assume the outcome would be the same.

Google’s dilemma is that their broadmatch technology is producing the same problem results even though the advertiser has not used an offending ™ in the keyword campaign. According to the sources quoted in the earlier postings, that’s what the French judgment was about.


3:21 pm on Oct 24, 2003 (gmt 0)

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I really think trademarking (which is NOT a very old practice) has gotten out of hand. I just read this story

Now I can see trademarking your company name, and anything you invent, but being able to trademark words (that you certainly didn't invent) like 'body solutions' or 'market travel' is totally ridiculous.

What's to stop Billy Gates from going out and trademarking every phrase he can find regarding computing? Then no one can use them any more.

IMHO, it's high time to stop giving trademarks for mere words.