American Airlines The Latest To Sue Google Over Trademarked Keywords

from the don't-they-have-more-important-things-to-focus-on? dept

You would think that with a number of judges already stating that keyword advertising based on a trademarked term is not trademark infringement that companies would stop filing such lawsuits. Apparently, you’d be wrong. And, oddly, the latest company to file such a lawsuit isn’t a small no-name company (as is usually the case), but American Airlines who is suing Google for showing ads when people search on American Airlines. There are many problems with this lawsuit. First and foremost, suing Google is going after the wrong party. Google isn’t the one doing the advertising, they’re simply providing the billboard on which advertisers can write what they want. If there is infringement, then it should be the liability of the advertisers, not Google. Second, it’s most likely not trademark infringement. Trademarks, unlike copyrights and patents, aren’t designed to give the company full control, but just to prevent customer confusion. As long as the ads aren’t misleading people into thinking that clicking on them will take them to American Airlines’ own site, then it’s hard to see how it’s trademark infringement. It’s perfectly legal (and good business) to advertise in a place when someone is looking for the competition. That’s why you see discount coupons in supermarkets right next to competing products. Also, American Airlines is apparently complaining that some of the advertisers, while legally selling American Airlines tickets, also sell competitors’ tickets. There’s absolutely nothing illegal about that. If a company legitimately sells AA tickets, and someone does a search on American Airlines, why shouldn’t they be able to point out that they sell AA tickets — even if they also sell someone else’s tickets? So far, most of these lawsuits end up going quite poorly for the complaining company, so this seems like it’s likely going to be a waste of time and money for American Airlines, at a time when it would seem like they have a lot more pressing problems to be solving.

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Companies: american airlines, google

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Comments on “American Airlines The Latest To Sue Google Over Trademarked Keywords”

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Tom Crandall (user link) says:

Re: The avalanche has already started..

Kudos to American Airlines for bringing the suit. A lot of search marketers and agencies are ignorant to the significance of trademark protection, until they themselves have issues.

Search marketers seems to think that these trademark suits are fruitless, but that mentality couldn’t be farther than the truth.

In 2005, Google was forced to change their trademark advertising policy after a devastating blow from a federal district court in the Geico Case. The court stated:

“…the district court found that the “extremely high” percentage of respondents who experienced some degree of confusion when viewing these advertisements was sufficient to show that there was a likelihood of confusion present when GEICO’s marks appeared in either the heading or the text of a Sponsored Link advertisement.”

“Google advised the district court that it had no contrary evidence. Thus, the district court held that GEICO had established a likelihood of confusion and had therefore shown that Google violated the Lanham Act with regard to those Sponsored Link advertisements that included GEICO’s marks in the headings or text.”

Google then settled with Geico to avoid a tumultuous threat to their business model and quickly changed their trademark policy to reflect the wisdom of the court.

This issue is not going to go away, because trademark infringement in the ads of search is very real and damaging. If it rolls into a class action, the search engines will face astounding costs in compensatory damages. They are much better off updating policies to halt the brokering of trademarks–for once I agree with France.

JGM says:

One nit: Google does a little more than “provide a billboard” – they use the search query to figure out who the driver is and erect a custom billboard just for him. Or something. The point being that Google isn’t just a passive provider of bandwidth in this case.

Having said that, this is a ridiculous lawsuit that deserves to be tossed out.


Anonymous Coward says:

I agree that the lawsuit is frivolous. That said I disagree with the statement that Google would not be the right one to sue in this case if it were merited.

Unlike something that is only a platform Google provides the advertising in a way that they are actively involved. They are actively involved in the selling and management of the keyword advertising. If the advertising was random then they would be protected, but that’s not the case with advertisers who are paying Google to display their adds based on specific keywords.

Regretfully there isn’t a way to truly chastise or punish companies like this who actively abuse the legal system for what they know (at least their lawyers should know) is frivolous. It’s a sad state of affairs when businesses are rewarded more for bullying tactics than for actual business acumen.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Unlike something that is only a platform Google provides the advertising in a way that they are actively involved. They are actively involved in the selling and management of the keyword advertising. If the advertising was random then they would be protected, but that’s not the case with advertisers who are paying Google to display their adds based on specific keywords.

Kind of like the way billboard companies are actively involved in the management and selling of ad-space on billboards. And billboards are often not random but instead targeted to the drivers of a particular area, such as hotel and rental car ads placed in the vicinity of airports or car dealer ads placed in close proximity to other dealers. I wouldn’t mind seeing billboard companies sued out of existence though.

Karen Proctor says:

Re: Over budget-Need to spend the money

This airlines would not be over budget if they would review the way their insurance company is screwing over the former TWA employees that were retired when they took over. The United Healthcare is as bad as Healthnet was when they just stopped paying on the lady undergoing chemotherapy. They just changed the way they were paying on my medical claims overnight. Their comment to me was read your policy. Nothing has changed on my policy. They have been paying on my claims since they took over in 2002 and without any notice they just quit paying. Some company.

Mystified says:

Re: Re:

AC – You obviously don’t understand trademarks at all. American Eagle outfitters sells clothes, American Eagle airline provides transportation. There is no reasonable expectation of customer confusion between the two.

The classic example is Apple – the record company and the computer company would not be easily confused with each other by consumers as long as Apple Computer didn’t sell music. As soon as Apple introduced the iPod there became a high potential for confusion, hence the situation where Apple Computer has to walk a very fine line and avoid putting the words ‘Apple’ and ‘iTunes’ in close proximity.

Imagine how rich the lawyers would get if Apple Records decided to market an Apple Records branded MP3 player!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Kleenex is a trademark
Xerox is a trademark

But, these companies allowed their brand names to be diluted when they became household names. Some people need Kleenex when they have a cold (rather than tissue, and not tissue paper since that is something else). Other people go to work to make Xerox copies of documents (or simply just Xerox it).

It is not about how little I understand trademarks, it is that American Airlines has a trademark for American Eagle, which sells clothes. And that they allowed their trademark to become diluted.

You said, “Imagine how rich the lawyers would get if Apple Records decided to market an Apple Records branded MP3 player!”.

I say:
Imagine how rich the lawyers would get if American Eagle decided to market pilot clothes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Another potential problem with their suit: Someone searching for American airlines could easily be looking for airlines that are American. Nationwide Insurance has the same problem.

Problem for whom? Not a problem for AA, I’m sure they’d LIKE every search on that term to steer people to them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

That is the point. It negates their complaint.

People searching for “American Airlines” (the company) are being infringed but “American Airlines” (looking for airlines within the US) is a benefit. There is no way to distinguish between the two.

If I were Google, I would just say “OK, searches for “American Airlines” now show results for Delta – case closed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

That is the point. It negates their complaint.

Not unless a judge says so. And if not, then the judge could further order that all future search results on that term have to point to AA’s website.

People searching for “American Airlines” (the company) are being infringed

How in the heck are “people” being infringed?

Nismoto says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:


You are missing the point or didn’t read the lawsuit or both. The judge cannot order them [Google] to point search results for “american airlines” to AA’s website: it already (and almost always) did.

AA’s complaint is that Google sells Sponsored Links for the keywords “american airlines”. Of course, this claim is ludicrous for many reasons:

1 – Google doesn’t know whether the person conducting the search wants “American Airlines” the company, airlines in America, crashes/hijackings involving “American Airlines” or the down and dirty on the company.

2 –, American Airlines website, was and still is the #1 result.

3 – You have to be 10 years old or a relative internet noob to confuse non-AA Sponsored Links with the real AA website. Just look at the URL printed plain as day under the add.

4 – AA claims that people want AA when they search for “american airlines”. I would like to suggest that many, many people that want to purchase American Airline tickets are probably looking for the cheapest price/best deal.

5 – AA lists three trade marks that were violated. However, one of the trade marks listed by AA is DEAD, one is for “americanairlines” (all one word) and the other one is a service mark for “American Airlines” filed in G & S: AIR TRANSPORT OF PASSENGERS AND FREIGHT.

Let’s not just boycott AA; let’s hijack ’em as well.

R.M. says:

I agree with some of the above. Anytime somebody searches for American Airlines, show the results of every American-based airline, but American Airlines. These guys need to focus on their core business and not screw around with nonsense like this. They sure aren’t encouraging me to do business with them by creating a friviolous suit like this.


bored now says:

and the point is?

I’m not even sure why this is regarded as news. Google fsck around, somebody sues. Big deal, heard it before.

Unless (a) it’s just another excuse to wank off about how evil IP law is.

(b) we must support Google, ’cause while they ruthlessly defend their own IP they sh1t on everybody else’s. And sh1tting on IP is what counts. Gimme a fscking break (user link) says:

The Latest To Sue Google Over Trademarked Keywords

It is ironical that a company whose motto is “Don’t Be Evil”
recklessly aid its customers in flagrantly violating other companies’ patented keywords and trademarks. I predict that if they continue with their cocky illegality that in the near future they would be swamped with an avalanche of lawsuits that would wipe them off. I am sure that would put a big smile on Ballmer’s face.

Dhaval Doshi (user link) says:

American Airlines

American Airlines seems to be hampering its own sales by this. Why don’t companies realize that their brand equity is being leveraged upon heavily by middlemen (travel agents online) without having to venture into advertising online on their own? They are saving marketing dollars here. They shouldn’t waste those on this frivolous lawsuit.


American Airlines

American airlines is a skank airline that is out to make a buck and doesnt give a damn about its customers. Undoubtedly other airlines do similar things, but I can attest to this much;
1.- Wherever you want to go you are likely to have to transfer planes, sometimes more than once. One time I was going to South America and the stupid plane stopped in Puerto Rico (dont ask me why) and gave me 10 minutes to get on the other plane. There was a line if about 200 people who had deplaned and were trying to get through the beeper thing. I had to charge through, screaming and elbowing people out of the way, and was able to get on my plane just as the doors were closing.
2.- The seats have been taken out and refitted so there are 3.5 inches between you and the next person. You spend four or five hours with your knees under your chin. And dont even think of going to the bathroom. There a female Godzilla insisting you keep your seat belt on. It makes life easier for the staff if everybody stays in their seats, liked canned peaches.
3.- I bought a ticket and got sick a couple of days before leaving, so I cancelled the trip. The will charge me $100. just to reactivate the ticket, and will only refund it if I die. In other words, once you buy a ticket, that money is theirs and will always be theirs. I have to take the trip or just flush the amount down the toilet.
Somebody should sue THEM.

Donald Taylor (user link) says:

Pleadings for American Airlines vs Google

Personally American Airlines suit against Google is correct!

Google is toying with Trade / Service Mark Names and any business that has a name that others benefit from by selling the right to link up with a search on any engine is wrong.

For those that want to read the pleadings that American Airlines filed read the rest of the story go to: PDF is towards the bottom pf page.

Come back around Sept 12 when Google’s demurrer / response is posted and All others thereafter.

There you can see how we too feel about this sort of piracy.


GMR says:

American Airline Stinks

After 9/11, American Airlines needs to sit down and shut-up. Bringing frivilous lawsuits to keep their name in the headlines and money in their pocket is a poor business tactic to use when you are trying to gain a good reputation. As the CEO Gerard Arpey is making bad business decisions. I googled AA lawsuits and there seem to be many involving AA. I am sure they collected a lot of insurance money after 9/11. After that day, they need to work with America, not deplete it. Forget the lawsuit and earn a good reputation by being a good airline. Some people will give this line a second chance, but I sure won’t. AA stinks.

Karen Proctor says:

Re: American Airline Stinks

I agree with you completely. After my husband worked for TWA for 35 years and retired and American Airlines took them over they were suppossed to take care of the retired employees healthcare until 65. Every year since they have just looked for ways to mess with our insurance. This year however they have really convince us just how bad they are. After paying my healthcare claims since 2002 they just decided to quit paying and tell me to submit Medicare claims and they would pay the rest. The problem with that is they will not furnish me with the proper paperwork so I can file for disability healthcare. When you try to talk with anyone at that company they just pass the buck and it has now been two years since we first started trying to get this info. I will not turn 65 until next year. I wonder how many other people are being treated this way by the insurance companies out there.

sunnys says:


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flights to Melbourne

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