The suit could force the discussion of the ethics of Web advertising tactics, a discussion that many in the industry would rather not have.
The particulars of the lawsuit are not that exciting. Office Depot accused Staples of deceptive advertising practices for having bought search terms that include the name of an Office Depot subsidiary.
Actually, both sides of the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach, Fla., involve subsidiaries. Office Depots subsidiary, Viking Office Products Inc., accuses Staples subsidiary, Quill Corp., of trying to lure away Viking customers.
The accusation is that Quill was implying things about the long-term prospects for Viking to which Viking/Office Depot took exception.
But the implications for the Web revolve around the way Staples/Quill was accused of poaching customers. Staples/Quill apparently purchased keywords from Google that would cause Staples/Quill links to come up when people typed in terms such as "Viking" when searching for the Office Depot subsidiary.
Why is this potentially such a big deal? Search engines—from Google, Yahoo, LookSmart, Business.com and many others—are the Webs next big shot at a sustainable business model. The first shot was banner ads, which is still a bumpy road.