Google 'can sell brand names to other advertisers'
Companies should be able to buy their rivals' brand names on Google allowing them to "piggyback" on searches for other products, according to a preliminary court decision.
Fashion label Louis Vuitton had challenged the search engine for showing internet users results from other sources when they looked up its name.
A French court ruled in its favour, but the case was passed to the European Court of Justice.
In an interim legal "opinion" in the EU's highest court, an Advocate-General indicated that Google had not infringed trademark rights by allowing advertisers to buy keywords corresponding to registered trademarks.
Under current Google policy, users are shown the name of advertisers who have purchased keywords relating to their search on the right-hand side of the screen under the heading "sponsored links".
But in the case of many companies, searches with their trademarks have triggered the appearance in the sponsored links of the names of rivals.
And Louis Vuitton went to court complaining that some of the links appearing during a search using its name are for firms marketing counterfeit or replica goods.
The company says the Google's advertising service, known as "AdWords", which was established in the US and is now being extended to Europe, enables advertisers to bid on terms like "Louis Vuitton fakes", and that the right to offer a trademarked name as part of a search advertising programme breaches EU rules.
But the Advocate-General, Poiares Maduro, suggests in his legal "opinion" that "Google has not committed a trademark infringement by allowing advertisers to select, in AdWords, keywords corresponding to trademarks".
The Advocate General says Google, by displaying ads in response to keywords corresponding to trademarks, does establish a link between those keywords and the advertised sites selling products identical or similar to those covered by the trademarks.
Today's "opinion" will now be taken into account by a full panel of EU judges. Their final verdict is expected later this year or early in 2010, however in around 80 per cent of cases they follow the Advocate-General's opinion.
Adrian Heath-Saunders, of London law firm Wedlake Bell, said today's opinion, if followed by the full court, would amount to a major defeat for brand-name companies.
"Google has been skirmishing with brand owners over its policy of allowing advertisers to purchase, as AdWords, the registered trademarks of their competitorsm" he 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 AdWords business."
Is it just me, or is LVMH becoming the head of law suits this month? First they were against ebay for selling counterfeit products, now Google for letting other sites with the words Louis Vuitton appear. Isn't that the whole point of Google? If you're trying to find something out, you don't want to see just one website, you want to see all of them, don't you? Understandably the company's main website comes first, but surely there isn't much harm in other sites showing up? It seems Louis Vuitton has hired someone to clear up the label's name and they're planning multiple law suits to make it seem more exclusive. All they're doing is costing themselves unnecessary money and making it seem as though they want everyone to act special just for the fashion label. Good for them, but as we've seen from the European Court of Justice, it may not always happen. Sometimes you just have to swallow your pride and think as long as people are saying the name Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy they're getting publicity.