European Court To Review Whether Google Can Sell Ads On Trademarked Terms
from the hopefully-a-little-sanity dept
While US courts have (mostly) finally realized that simply selling search terms based on someone else’s trademarked name should not make Google liable, French courts haven’t been so enlightened. The huge fashion retailer Louis Vuitton won a lawsuit against Google, because some advertisers had purchased search ads on the term “Louis Vuitton” to advertise “Louis Vuitton Fakes” and “Louis Vuitton Replicas.” It’s hard to see the common sense reasoning to support LV in this case. In fact, the ruling seems problematic on two separate accounts — both on the question of whether this was a trademark violation and whether it’s Google who should be liable even if it is a trademark violation.
On the trademark question, a trademark is not about ownership of the mark itself, but it was designed to prevent customer confusion (i.e., telling someone that they were buying a Louis Vuitton product when it really wasn’t). While the name is being used to sell counterfeit products, there shouldn’t be any customer confusion here since the advertisements make it quite clear that the products for sale are fakes. No one will click on such an ad and think they are buying a legitimate item. So it’s difficult to see how that leads to any sort of consumer harm.
On the liability question, even if you do believe that this is trademark infringement, the infringement is on the part of the advertiser, not Google. It’s the advertiser that caused the confusion with the advertisement. Suing Google for such things is simply an attempt to shift the liability from the party who actually did something, to the company with a ton of money (funny how that works).
It appears that this case is now back up for discussion, as the case now moves out of France and into the European Court of Justice. Hopefully that court will be more reasonable in its approach to dealing with this particular issue.