Is Google Web Search at Risk?

By Matthew Hicks  |  Posted 2004-02-03 Print this article Print

A retailer taking Google to court over its trademark policy for keyword-based advertising also plans to question Google's basic practices in Web searching, the very core of its business.

In its legal battle with Google Inc., American Blind and Wallpaper Factory Inc. is challenging much more than the search engines keyword-based advertising practices. The home decorating retailer also is questioning Googles cherished search algorithms and Web index. American Blinds lead attorney, in a recent interview with, made it clear that the scope of the trademark infringement lawsuit filed last week against Google and the search engines partners doesnt end with the sponsored listings for which advertisers bid on keywords. The retailer also is accusing Google of infringing on its trademarks by returning non-sponsored Web search listings from competitors when certain terms are queried, said David Rammelt of Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, in Chicago. "Our concerns are not just limited to the paid, sponsored links," Rammelt said. "We are seeing competitors listed when our trademarks are being typed verbatim."
Rammelt said that American Blind plans to examine Googles algorithms and search technology when the case moves into a discovery phase to fully investigate the extent of infringement. American Blind is seeking damages as well as a temporary and permanent injunction to bar Google from listing its competitors for keywords that match or are similar to its trademarks.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, does not distinguish between the various types of search listings on Googles site or on the sites of the five other defendants named in the suit. Those defendants, which use Googles listings, are America Online Inc., AOL subsidiaries Netscape Communications Corp. and CompuServe Interactive Services Inc., Ask Jeeves Inc. and EarthLink Inc. Googles main search listings come from its index of 3 billion Web pages and are ranked by its proprietary algorithms. Google also runs keyword-based paid search through its AdWords program. Those listings appear before or alongside the Web search results on its site and those of its partners. Google officials declined to comment on the allegations in the lawsuit and have said that the company is reviewing the lawsuit and awaiting a decision in its own preemptive filing. In December, Google asked the U.S. District Court for the Northern Division of California for a ruling affirming the legality of its trademark policy for keyword-based advertising; American Blind has asked the court to dismiss that case. Google, according to court filings, has accommodated American Blind on terms that exactly match its trademarks, including "American Blind & Wallpaper Factory," "American Blind Factory" and "DecorateToday." But Google, in letters to American Blind, has insisted that descriptive terms do not violate American Blinds trademarks when entered in a search query. American Blind begs to differ, saying that the returning of any listings from competitors when descriptive terms such as "American Blind" or "American Blinds" are queried is misleading and undercuts its business. Next Page: Search engine experts point to editorial judgment by Google.

Matthew Hicks As an online reporter for, Matt Hicks covers the fast-changing developments in Internet technologies. His coverage includes the growing field of Web conferencing software and services. With eight years as a business and technology journalist, Matt has gained insight into the market strategies of IT vendors as well as the needs of enterprise IT managers. He joined Ziff Davis in 1999 as a staff writer for the former Strategies section of eWEEK, where he wrote in-depth features about corporate strategies for e-business and enterprise software. In 2002, he moved to the News department at the magazine as a senior writer specializing in coverage of database software and enterprise networking. Later that year Matt started a yearlong fellowship in Washington, DC, after being awarded an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellowship for Journalist. As a fellow, he spent nine months working on policy issues, including technology policy, in for a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He rejoined Ziff Davis in August 2003 as a reporter dedicated to online coverage for Along with Web conferencing, he follows search engines, Web browsers, speech technology and the Internet domain-naming system.

Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel