Judge Confused Over Meaning Of Trademark In Geico Case Against Google

from the will-maybe-set-a-precedent dept

This isn't a huge surprise, but the Geico lawsuit against Google and Overture for showing competitors' ads on searches including the term "Geico" is been given the green light to move forward, and wasn't simply tossed out. Apparently, the judge believed Geico that this somehow was trademark infringement. Hopefully, Google and Overture can get a good legal strategy together in time for the actual case. It's been said many times before, but this is not trademark infringement, it's advertising. The point of trademark is to protect your brand against being hijacked by someone else pretending to be you. It's to avoid consumer confusion. It's not, like a patent, designed to keep everyone completely away. As long as the ads in question don't try to trick users into believing that they are Geico, there's no trademark infringement. It's no different than trying to get yourself on the same super market shelf as a more popular brand. You want to be in the same place when someone is looking for your competitor. If anything, Geico should be focusing on specific ads that confuse users into believing that the ads are for Geico instead of a competitor. Speaking of which, Google and Overture should have nothing to do with this case. They're not the ones who created the ads, but are simply the vehicle for delivering them. If Geico has a problem with the ads, they should be suing the advertiser in question. The fact that the judge didn't get these things early on suggests that Google and Overture's legal strategy has not worked properly so far. Considering the potential impact of a loss in this case, they may want to re-evaluate their legal strategy.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    M. Sean Fosmire, Sep 2nd, 2004 @ 5:54pm

    Google not responsible?

    >Speaking of which, Google and Overture should have nothing to do with this case. They're not the ones who created the ads, but are simply the vehicle for delivering them.< br>Are you serious? Google and Overture provide the structure under which the ads are served. The only way that the ads get there is by using the structure they designed. I agree that there is no trademark infringement, but if there is, the service which creates it would be responsible.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Mike (profile), Sep 2nd, 2004 @ 6:44pm

    Re: Google not responsible?

    By that reasoning, your internet provider should be responsible for any trademark infringement you do. After all, they "provide the structure" under which that info is served...

    Service providers are clearly not liable for what their users do on that service.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    TK, Sep 3rd, 2004 @ 6:54am

    Re: Google not responsible?

    Likewise, by that reasoning (that Google & Overture ARE responsible) would make Yellow Pages publishers subject to the same. There is no fundamental difference between the Google/Overture issue and my looking up GEICO in the Yellow Pages (admittedly in the Insurance category) and seeing other insurance provider's ads.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Candide, Sep 5th, 2004 @ 10:00am

    Re: Google not responsible?

    This case should have been thrown out on motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action. If this is decided in Geico's favor, it will be bad law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    LawStudent, Sep 19th, 2004 @ 7:30am

    Re: Google not responsible?

    Actually, this is not so much a case of infringement, which requires a liklihood of confusion as to the mark holder's endorsement of the product, but instead, just any kind of use of the mark that "dilutes" its inherent value.

    Usually dilution occurs with respect to similar looking designs. This case seems somewhat novel in that Google is using the trademarked name as a computer database identifier that links to sponsored sites that want to be associated with a Geico search.

    So clearly, they profit from Geico's name; but the use is in the background...and no one knows that...dilution?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Somebody, Nov 11th, 2004 @ 1:25pm

    Re: Google not responsible?

    I would have to agree that this is clearly a misuse of Geico's trademark. Can you deny that google and overture are clearly collecting income based solely on the popularity of Geico's trademark? If Geico loses this lawsuit, it could mean disaster not only for many small businesses (not claiming the Geico is a small business here), but ultimately for the very income stream of these search engines. Why would someone continue to advertise and promote their tradenames if their competitors can simply buy their trademark and leech traffic from it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    mousky, Dec 13th, 2004 @ 5:04pm

    Re: Google not responsible?

    Actually, this case is about infringement, since the main argument used by GEICO is that having sponsored links listed beside regular search results leads to confusion in the consumers mind.

    Plenty of companies "profit" from brand names of other companies. Grocery stores adverts are full of products "on sale" though not necessarily at a reduced price. If a flyer advertises "Coca-Cola" should Coca-Cola sue because the Pepsi products are right beside the Coca-Cola products in the store? No. People know the difference between Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

    It has yet to be proven that Google is using a trademarked name as a computer database identifier or as an AdWord. They could simply have a database that identifies GEICO as an insurance company and that when a user types in GEICO, Google pulls up an insurance company/broker. No different from the Yellow Pages.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Zed, Dec 13th, 2005 @ 10:05am

    The judge is NOT confused

    If a Google customer searches for Geico and is directed to a non-Geico website (because that non-Geico website paid Google for the Geico link) then Google certainly is liable for misuse of the Geico trademark. I hope that Google loses.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Mike (profile), Dec 13th, 2005 @ 11:06am

    Re: The judge is NOT confused

    No, I'm afraid you're misunderstanding trademark law in two ways.

    First, it's completely reasonable and legal to put up competing ads if someone searches on Geico -- as long as they're clear that the ads are for a competitor, not Geico.

    Second, Google is simply the platform for the ads, and therefore have no liability. They're not the ones (potentially) misusing the Geico trademark.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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