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Google Wins Geico Lawsuit

5:57 pm on Dec 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) - Google Inc. won a major legal victory Wednesday when a federal judge said the search engine could continue to sell ads triggered by searches using trademarked company names.

Brinkema said the case would continue to move forward on one remaining issue, whether ads that pop up and actually use Geico in their text violate trademark law. Google contends that its policies expressly prohibit advertisers from using trademark names in the text of their ads. The search engine says it does its best to prevent ads that violate the policy from sneaking in, and that the advertisers would be liable for any trademark violation, not Google.

Complete article:

5:03 am on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Yes, but it is a victory for the consumer - no question.

If I'm looking for geico, it's good to see their competition lined up.

The regular serps are usually pretty good at sending me to the correct website.

It is also a victory for the independent webmaster who doesn't have a hefty and recognizable brand.

It is a problem for those who have invested a lot into their brand, I do agree.

As I consider myself more of an independent webmaster (and probably always will be), I'm going to mark this one down for the little guy.

5:43 am on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Why would it be good for me to see some crap about Pemco if I'm searching for Geico?

Have you been doing this so long that you just assume everyone that uses a search engine is a potential customer?

A reliable formula for calculating relevance, much less even defining it, ought to be along about six months after the cure for cancer.

6:01 am on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

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

Figure a large percentage of people who look for Geico are going there to log into the site because they have a policy there. They are going to click on the Geico listing in the free or paid results and the only ad in the paid results should have the variation of the TM in bold so it should be easy to find (if the merchant is any good at writing creative).

The rest may be looking to buy some type of insurance and looking to check out the Geico site. If that is the case, woudn't you as a consumer like to see ads from other conmpanies who might be able to give you a better deal? If you are a Geico customer, wouldn't you like to see ads from companies who might be able to provide you with a better deal?

If a company has a history of screwing their customers and not paying claims, wouldn't it be nice to be able to find that info when you look for them by name?

The consumer wins if this decision stands.

6:03 am on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

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In addition they demanded to know statistics for the keyword and profits made from the keyword.

Aren't you breaking the AdWords TOS by providing them this information? Shouldn't they be subpoenaing el GOOG?

6:05 am on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

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It's also interesting how there doesn't seem to be any advertising on Google trademarks:

On the search for GOOG there was an advert for an adult search engine.

edit: on the search for Google, not GOOG

[edited by: skibum at 6:10 am (utc) on Dec. 16, 2004]
[edit reason] trying to stay off filters - changed p to adult [/edit]

6:32 am on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

On the search for GOOG there was an advert for an adult search engine.

I think the operative word there is 'was'... That just proves the point.

6:49 am on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

Well, you can bid on 'adsense' and 'adwords'. I don't see a direct bid by overture but there is an affiliate for OV in position 30 or so... and for 'adsense' fastclick could bid if they wanted to so google isn't being hypocritical.

BTW the adult ad still shows at the moment if you search 'froogle'.

[edit 5 minutes later]operative word 'was' again ;)[/edit]

7:22 am on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

If this lawsuit had won (or if a similar one wins in the future) I don't see why trademark holders couldn't also sue for displaying competitors sites in the natural SERPS too?

I'm off to trademark "mesothelioma"....

7:36 am on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

...and as far as new company names a strategy would be to pick something non-generic enough to be trademarked but already searched heavily on google. Eventually adwords value would be much eroded.

e.g. Lets be "Book Review" Inc. or "Car Showcase" LLC...

[edit]hell - thinking about this more i would do that in a heartbeat. Go keyword hunting, then spend a grand or whatever for the trademark for my internet 'company', and cash in by cornering all the adwords traffic for 5 cents a click... now i'm kinda bummed that google won, lol[/edit]

[edited by: PPCBidder at 7:49 am (utc) on Dec. 16, 2004]

7:42 am on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

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So you expect the majority of shoppers to:

A) Decide that comparison shopping for their insurance needs is the best way to ensure they're getting value for their money.

B) Decide that the Internet is the best venue for this research, rather than anecdotal experience from peers or contacting local insurance agents (I believe there is still such a thing).

C) Decide to investigate Geico specifically.

D) Fail to type in "geico.com" into the address bar of their web browser.

E) Somehow manage to get to Google (note the 0/1 record in navigating to the desired website) and type in "geico" as a search result, deciding that this is the most efficient course of action.

F) Ignore the search engine results that are provided from the search engine they've decided to search, selecting instead to do their research from the compelling advertisements on the right 15% of the screen.

And now, now we're supposed to present this savvy insurance shopper with the most relevant link? I'm sorry but by the time you've reached this point, the user's desire to see relevant information about Geico is about the last calculation taken in to effect. The keywords are in, the ads are displayed, the impressions are counted, now who gets the click? The advertiser benefits if the click-through is "close enough", Google benefits if the click-through even occurs - it seems that the only person still concerned about getting information for Geico as an insurance company is the person who searched for it. But hey, screw them! There's profit to be made, and we'll just call an ad with "Geico" in the title and the company logo on the landing page "relevant".

If you are a Geico insurance affiliate who benefits from relaying them leads, and have worked to build a partner relationship with the company and present their products in the best light possible because you want to make a sale, and this likely Geico customer visits your site, then great. But if I craft more vague yet compelling ad & headline text (perhaps even invoking a known and desired brand) and pay more money, my ad goes on top of yours - plain and simple. And that's regardless of the fact that my ad leads to a page clogged with siezure inducing animated GIF affiliate banners, some of which are hawking insurance while others offer prescription medication and mortgage refinance. There's no argument to be made that Google "screens" these pages out - if any of you have tried marketing in a highly competitive Internet services industry, I'm sure you know that. The entire system is built on taking a request for something specific and making it appear as though your similar product or service is a valid replacement for that one specific desire. Somewhere between the programmers and the CEOs, a simple conditional statement got lost - $similar!= $relevant.

This very argument displays the inherent flaw in offering "relevant" shopping results. They "may want" to read this or that, they "may" be shopping for this or that. But they originally desired the Geico brand, which hits on a keyword when someone uses it. If that ad is prominently placed but does not in fact offer relevant information about the Geico brand (and who could offer more relevant information than the brand owner), then what have we accomplished? Perhaps an impulse purchase and a commission, definately a set dollar amount for a click-through, but does this then make the ad relevant?

Will you then argue that if someone -is- comparison shopping, and searches "Geico comparison Consumer Reports", any website sporting the brand Consumer Reports will be just as relevant as the one owned by that brand? Do you believe that such a scenario won't eventually implode as the number of people who want valid information look elsewhere and the only demographic left is the people who don't even realize their desire for information has been boiled down to a commodity with a price?

Maybe then you forget why Google rose to dominance, and why you're not paying AltaVista or WebCrawler for "sponsored links". Google's never been fettered by the concerns that fell these giants, who's engines became less and less relevant while they became more and more clogged with advertising.

Google's never gotten dollar signs in their eyeballs while calculating their hit statistics - until now. An empire built on ingenuity in determing relevance is now engaged in an industry where relevance is the absolute last concern - where flash trumps substance each and every day, a million times over. Now ad placement is king, while cash and clicks are the currency of the land. If customers really are savvy enough to benefit from the enigmatic paid results they'll get when brands become identified with products and services, they're plenty savvy enough to avoid those paid results and navigate to what they actually want. And if they can't get that from Excite - errr, I mean Google - then they'll go somewhere else.

To the competition occupying the other 19 spots in the top 20 this is a "great benefit to the consumer". To Geico, this is a travesty and a sign that they've now built a brand and marketed it, at great expense I'm sure, for the benefit of the competition. For everyone else in that industry who's lower on the food chain, it's a minor "Avg Pos" bump in one direction or the other.

To those of us who've been surfing the Internet since the days of Gopher sites, command line Usenet readers, and X.25 databases this is an abhorrent use of the word "relevant". You didn't have to depend on an advertiser and a publisher to determine what information may be relevant to you, you had to go out and get it.

7:48 am on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member


I don't think any thinking person in the world would expect Reebok to not be sued should they blatantly optimize a page to rank above a search for "Nike Air Jordan sneakers". And, at least in the past, these optimizations would have had to have been blatant for it to work - perhaps as Google sells more "keyword stock" to subsidize their "real" stock, it will be more transparent for competitors to encroach on searches for other people's brands.

If I search for "athletic shoe comparison" and get each company putting their best sales pitch out, great - I'd better expect that. If I search for "Nike Air Jordan" and get some pink Reebok woman's running shoe, I'm going to find a new search engine.

And I doubt I'm alone.

[After hitting submit I realized that aside from my philosophical argument, people do realize the obvious - that non-paid search results are on an even playing field - but if either the Geico or the competitor increase their bid to reach #1, Google's the sure benefecator from Geico's devalued brand name search results. Right?]

8:03 am on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Hehe, I typed all that and the answer was so simple to find - in fact, it's the next thread on WebmasterWorld chronologically.


8:14 am on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

>>If I search for "Nike Air Jordan" and get some pink Reebok woman's running shoe, I'm going to find a new search engine.

"Pink Reebok Running Shoe" would have to bid something like 10X or more to trump "Nike Air Jordan" relevant ads, unless Pink Reebok Running Shoes are currently some huge fad item. Paid ads natuarally work themselves out.

e.g. on "Nike Air Jordan" search a likely CTR might be around 5.0%, whereas for Reebok Pink Shoe it may be ~0.5%

To the bigger advertising budget go the spoils, but the brand holder will almost always be able to retain top slot for a cheaper price than the rest.

8:40 am on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Well, in context, I posed that hypothetical in response to a post regarding engines being sued for the non-paid placement of trademarked brands vs. competing brands.

But let's roll with that as an AdWords hyopthetical too, and see what we get.

1) Reebok. The intangible benefit of perceived equilavency between their pink women's running shoes and one of Nike's flagship products is worth 10x the bid alone, not to mention that a 1% dent in the sale of Nike Airs would translate to a 150% increase in the sale of pink women's running shoes, should they actually be able to convert the hi-jacked result into a sale.

2) Google. They get 10x the CPC Nike was giving instantly - and not 10x the value of "Reebok pink running shoe" or even "athletic shoes", but 10x the value of the brand - "Nike Air Jordan".

1) Nike. Some percentage of the cost of building the brand has now been lost in another intangible - prestige. Aside from that, if Reebok successfully muddles the line between brands, and actual economic loss can be figured based on the shift in demand away from the now-less-dominant product. To recover that prestige (as well as demand, for that matter), it will be necessary to bid at least 11x the original CPC of the ad to get "back to normal".

2) Me, because I got pink women's running shoes instead of Nike Air Jordans. And I'm the real victim here, because Nike has a million lawyers and a thousand (TM)s and (R)s in place to protect themselves - I was just using my trusty old search engine to find a deal on shoes, but I had to wade through so much crap I gave up and went to the mall.

I don't see how offering someone a Kia who's searching for a Lamborghini is a smart business decision, a relevant search result, or a practice that can be repeated very long, just because they are both cars.

Nor do I see that system "balancing out" until one of the two profiteers in the deal reneges on it. It is unconscionable that Google expects us to believe they rose to the top of the search engine crowd by equating "Geico" and "insurance".

Nor have I read anything about Google's response to the actual advertiser that placed the ad. Merely that "they were only acting as a publisher". If that's the defense, or that it "may be relevant", I think it signifies a major shift in Google's philosophy.

9:09 am on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

I know these are hypotheticals, but I don't see your point - especially in #1. I make the following assumptions if Reebok settles into #1 and Nike #2, long-term:

1) Nike takes a small hit in sales
2) Reebok acquires a noticable increase in sales

Advertising Budget:
1) Budget in line with norms
2) Budget completely out of control

Conclusion given action is sustained:
Reebok goes bankrupt.

11:12 am on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

e.g. Lets be "Book Review" Inc. or "Car Showcase" LLC...

I think there may be a bit of a misunderstanding regarding what, exactly, you can register as a trademark here...

You can't register anything but a unique name (as far as I understand this) i.e. no generics or verbs etc. For example - this is why Google is fighting so hard to stop people using the word 'google' as a verb (i.e. yesterday I googled so and so). If this enters widespread common usage then their trademark could be in doubt. Hence 'coca cola' (a trademark) rather than 'cola' (a generic word).

2:18 pm on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

unique name (as far as I understand this) i.e. no generics or verbs

I have no idea what i am talking about. But, Sun, Windows are not unique by any means.

2:46 pm on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

The generic-test issue of trademarks is like this.

"Windows" as a trademark for an operating system is legally allowable,

but "Windows" as a trademark for windows is not.

I apologize here for using a M$ example! lol :)

4:53 pm on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

You failed to mention another big looser in this wholy Trademark Wars.

Small startup who tries to enter the market.

Unless you invest millions of dollars, once niche is taken and trademarks are established, it is painfully difficult to compete against big guys.

I've got "seize and desist" letter from a company MyKeyword (who also own website MyKeyword.com), for the use of >>>> "My Keyword" <<<< in our adwords. Make me want to move my company to a third-world island.

5:14 pm on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

The suggestion that the molehill "victory" helps the little guy is outright absurd. It helps the big guy G$ bully any little guy with a trademark.

G$'s obvious contempt for others' trademarks is totally against the little guy enterprise which might not be able to afford the millions of dollars to fight when their trademarks are infringed by such unethically-earned ways that G$ allows.

Regardless of the molehill "victory," G$ is being exposed that G$ also outright lies with its "Do no evil" assertion. The only non-evil position is to instead respect the trademark owner's decision about their own trademark property. But G$ is revealed here as only caring about $ for themselves -- not trademarks, not the little guy, not even relevance for their users. Truth is, G$ now only knows how "to do evil" -- even as that means harming others and preventing their users from getting relevant ads.

5:30 pm on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

Interestingly enough, although I don't think it makes a major difference who of the 2 behemoths wins here, little guy will loose.

Also, G$ must go through intoxication from the big almighty DOLLAR. Almost no one is able to stay "no evil" through that. I also welcome M$ entrance into search, s M$ has been there, and is much healthier now.

The definite winner: Lawyers.

5:41 pm on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Yes. You know G$ has committed so much extreme evil when people (like myself who used to very much like and "trust" G$) are actually now wanting M$ to kick G$'s butt instead of the reverse.
6:56 pm on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

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I was a little entrepreneur who has now risen to the top of my trade, and the top SERPS of my trade too. The competition is a bunch of powerful, stale old farts whose merchandise has gone nowhere for decades. I moved in aggressively with innovative new designs and great prices- a sweeping reinvention of a longstandingly sleepy, geriatric status quo- and I'm eating everyone else's lunch. My reorder rate is astronomical, and my regulary solicited customer feedback is a pure stream of ecstatic raves. Business is strong, and they're worried.

So let's talk about relevancy, during a search for some established industry icon who has managed in the public consciousness to get its name exclusively associated with a generic product. By and large, my competitors are gargantuan dinosaurs with brains the size of walnuts, blindly, inexorably plodding toward their own extinction (kindly forgive my arrogance but I think it does ring true). Rather than evolve, rather than actually improve what they have to offer on the market, they simply throw their weight around by bidding up the relevant high-volume AdWords KW's. On Overture they put in a US$5.00 bid when the next-lowest is only $0.11 (and you'd best believe I snipe the creeps at $4.99).

I widely bid on the trade names of every competitor I can find, using ad text which basically reads: 'Wholesale Widgets- Compare prices and Quality!'. If Google says to searchers: 'Hey, here's your Geico, and while you're at it, check out all these other great related sites who also want to compete for your attention and your business dollar for the same product', I see nothing but good in it for the consumer...
...and the big guy, and the little guy.

Frankly, looking at my own trade, I'm seeing (just a few of) my formerly asleep competitors awaken a little and tighten up their acts. Such competition is the healthy, intended tool to create the idealized best in a free-market society. And what is the alternative, the worst? Behemoths permanently dominating markets with massive monopoly capital.

And going back to your Nikes and your Reeboks, do you honestly believe there's a qualitative difference between these commodity products, or between Coke and Pepsi's brands of chemical-laden sugar waters? Baaaaahhhhh, Mister Sheep, you're the perfect consumer, ready for cloning.

8:29 pm on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

If Google says to searchers: 'Hey, here's your Geico, and while you're at it, check out all these other great related sites who also want to compete for your attention and your business dollar for the same product'

But G$ does NOT say that publicly to its users. Instead, G$ is LYING to the users who are using the G$ search engine to find results for WHAT THEY (the users) SEARCHED. Again, can we say, RELEVANCE?. G$ repeatedly advances the LIE in the press (et al) that G$ supposedly offers RELEVANT results, when they deliberately do not. G$'s praising themselves over this molehill "victory" is an open admission of that fact that they want to purposely deliver IRRELEVANT results.

Users, believing the lie that G$ supposedly provides RELEVANT results, use that SE thinking they will get results for WHAT THEY SEARCHED, not "other products like it". If the users knew the blatant lie that G$ is knowingly NOT giving RELEVANT results (and now bragging about that with this molehill "victory"), then the users would not use G$ in the first place.

8:37 pm on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

For that, searchers should hit the Yellow Pages website or its many generic competitors.

Sounds like you'd like Google to return only a single result: just a big blank white page, and only one search result smack dab in the center of it: and that would be... Geico, period.

8:54 pm on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I (and most SE users) want a SE that offers what G$ no longer does but used to do: give honest, relevant on-topic SERPs and ads.

It is very simple. Any high SERP listing and any ad should be a website of its own real-domain and which provides the user with something about the keyword, showing that the landing page is indeed committed to that keyword. Whether it is a product, or a pro or con article, or an actual comparison to others, or a report or opinion, the landing page simply MUST be about the searched-for keyword.

It's called RELEVANCE.

That should not be too much to expect from a SE, considering that's what they are supposed to be for and why users use them.

9:06 pm on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Please clarify: What is more relevant to a consumer's search for a branded product, than that brand's competition?
9:11 pm on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

There's some really cool ad-blocking software out there that means many of us never see the google ads, only the search engine results. Protecting me from potential constitutional dilemmas like this.
9:21 pm on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

For that, searchers should hit the Yellow Pages website

Correcting myself here-
Actually, the White Pages is what I meant.

The point anyway, is that Google is not a phone directory. It's a relevance-based Internet searcher.

11:08 pm on Dec 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Please clarify: What is more relevant to a consumer's search for a branded product, than that brand's competition?

When a user wants other products/producers/providers, they search for it.

It is wholly IRRELEVANT to return anything else unless the user searched for it.

Can we say RELEVANCE? It's just so obvious.

This 122 message thread spans 5 pages: 122

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