Google Seeks Court Ruling on Keywords

Threatened with legal action, Google recently took a preemptive step in the growing battle over which keywords in search-engine advertising are protected by trademark laws.

Google Inc., facing the threat of further lawsuits, is seeking a court decision to back its policy covering the use of trademarks in its keyword advertising.

The search engine leader in late November filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Jose asking for a "declaratory judgment" in a dispute with American Blind & Wallpaper Factory Inc. that began in 2002. American Blind has claimed that Google is infringing on its trademarks by allowing competitors to use certain keywords in search-engine advertising.

Googles preemptive step comes as it and other search engine companies that sell keyword-based advertising face increasing pressure from some advertisers to block the use by others of particular words and phrases that they claim as their own. Google through its AdWords service allow advertisers to buy links that are triggered to appear alongside search results when searchers enter particular keywords.

Google, of Mountain View, Calif., was sued in August 2003 by Luis Vuitton SA over the use of certain keywords that Luis Vuitton claimed infringed on its trademarks. American Blind had threatened to file a similar lawsuit if Google did not remove other keywords from its advertising pool

An attorney representing American Blind wrote in a July 2002 letter to Google that the Michigan-based companys competitors have "flagrantly attempted to confuse customers and capitalize illegally on (American Blinds) goodwill and reputation by purchasing substantially similar keywords form search engines."

Google in September 2002 agreed to block the use of three keywords from use by other customers in keyword advertising. These were "American Blind & Wallpaper Factory," "American Blind Factory" and "DecorateToday," according to the court filing dated Nov. 26.

But Google has defended the use of a list of 36 other keywords that American Blind, in a series of letters, had claiming infringed on its trademarks. These included phrases such as "American blind" and "decorate today."

"While Google has agreed to prevent other entities from using American Blinds registered marks themselves as keywords, Google believes and maintains that descriptive terms are not entitled to such treatment," the court filing stated.