When you search for something on Google you commonly receive a small number of ads in your search results. But, when you search for “World Cup” you will tend to get actual results without ads, plus the famous Google OneBox (the little box at the top of your search results with relevant information). It’s an interesting twist that we will explore below. But first, we’ll explain how keyword advertising and trademark infringement create a new frontier for trademark lawyers.
When you run a search, say for McDonald’s, you’ll get your standard results but also some ads. Those ads are from companies that paid the search engine to display their ads anytime a user searches for a specific keyword. Anyone can buy a keyword, even if that keyword is the name of a competitor.
That raises an interesting legal issue: whether using a keyword protected by a trademark registration constitutes trademark infringement.
Keyword Advertising & Trademark Infringement
While the issue is not fully resolved, most courts have held that keyword advertisers may use protected trademarks in their campaigns, provided they don’t use the protected trademarks in the ad’s copy.
Thus, Burger King could purchase the McDonald’s keyword so that anytime a user searched for McDonald’s, Burger King’s ads would have a chance to appear. According to most courts, that doesn’t constitute trademark infringement. However, if Burger King then used the McDonald’s name in the actual copy, that would be considered infringement.
You might then suspect that a Google search for “World Cup” would result in many ads because that term is so popular. But Google has made some unique decisions with respect to that search.
“World Cup” Search Results
The few court cases that ended in the legal conclusions discussed above are simply the common law. But, Google has its own rules and policies regarding keyword advertising.
It looks like Google is controlling searches for “World Cup” because if you search that term you usually won’t receive ads in return. Rather, you’ll see the Google OneBox (below) with information about the World Cup.
You might also notice the official FIFA World Cup trademark in the box, indicating Google is likely receiving payments from FIFA for this. Other Google users are even indicating they have received some ads, but they have been ads for official World Cup sponsors such as Degree deodorant.
It would be interesting to know if FIFA is controlling Google’s keyword searches and offering exclusive Google advertising to its sponsors, but even if such deals exist, we will likely never learn about them.
First, it is kind of nice to be able to search “World Cup” and not get a bunch of ads.
But second, and more important to you, this is a good lesson in keyword advertising. You may not be able to stop someone from bidding on your protected trademarks as keywords, but if you find ad copy using your marks, you should take action to stop the infringement.
If you are still confused about your rights, be sure to check out MightyMarks.com to learn how we can protect your trademark rights.
Image Credit: Thinkstock/Ig0rZh
*This article is very general in nature and does not constitute legal advice. Readers with legal questions should consult with an attorney prior to making any legal decisions.