May 15, 2009

Owning Words [11:40 am]

There’s already been plenty of discussion about ownership of numbers; now we move into the tortuous region of ownership of combinations of UTF-8 character strings: Companies Object to Google Policy on Trademarks (pdf)

On Monday, FPX filed a class-action suit against Google in federal court in Texas, saying that Google had infringed on its trademark and challenging Google’s policies on behalf of all trademark owners in the state. Legal experts said it was the first class-action suit against Google over the issue.

But Google’s acceptance of such competitive uses of trademarks has irked many other companies, including the likes of American Airlines and Geico, which have filed suits against Google and settled them. Many brand owners say the practice abuses their brands, confuses customers and increases their cost of doing business.

None of this, apparently, is giving Google much reason to reconsider. This month, it expanded to more than 190 new countries its policy of allowing anyone to buy someone else’s trademark as a trigger for an ad. And late Thursday it announced that it would allow limited use of trademarks in the text of some search ads, even if the trademark owner objects.

“They are pouring fuel on the fire,” said Eric Goldman, an associate professor at the Santa Clara University School of Law and director of its High Tech Law Institute. “Trademark owners are not going to like this change in policy. They already felt that Google was not treating them as well as they liked. Here Google is making it harder to control the use of their trademarks online.”

Or maybe forcing the question of whether trademarks have anything to do with search terms? Or are you planning to pay Pat Riley a nickel every time you say “threepeat?”

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