Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Judge Finds Confusion Over Geico Ads, Punts On The Real Liability Question

from the missing-the-point dept

In the ongoing saga of Geico vs. Google, it appears that a District Court judge has sided with Geico in determining that certain ads may be confusing to consumers, and therefore establish trademark violations. This case has a lot of moving parts, so it's easy to be a bit confused over what's really being discussed -- in fact, it's so easy that not even the two sides agree on what's really being argued. However, the first issue is whether or not text ads on Google that use Geico's name are a violation of Geico's trademark. That seems questionable in a generalized form, as plenty of companies have ads that mention their competitors by name. However, if the specific ads are done in a way that could confuse people, then it's a trademark violation -- and the judge seems to believe that's the case here. Hopefully, the ruling will make it clear that this does not apply to any ad on the keyword Geico, but just ads that are shown to be potentially confusing. Still, the more important point is whether or not Google should be liable for the damages. After all, it isn't Google that wrote the infringing ad. That's the important part of this case -- and on that point, the judge has punted. Instead of deciding that issue, she said that there was trademark violation and told Geico and Google to try to settle the case before she decides if Google is even liable. That seems ridiculous. Google shouldn't have any responsibility at all. It should be the company that created the infringing ad, and it seems silly that Google should have to waste resources settling a legal case that it shouldn't be a part of.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    responsibility, Aug 9th, 2005 @ 12:31pm

    No Subject Given

    you are forgetting that google is making money off these trademark infringing ads. So of course they should share in the liability as they are sharing in the revenue. It is their system and their revenues, why should they be immune from responsibility of its content?

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

  2. icon
    Mike (profile), Aug 9th, 2005 @ 1:07pm

    Re: No Subject Given

    Google is not liable because they are not the ones creating the content. If you use a phone call to do something illegal, the phone company still makes money, but they are not liable for the fact that you broke the law.

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

  3. identicon
    responsibility, Aug 9th, 2005 @ 1:27pm

    Re: No Subject Given

    Not really an appropriate analogy.

    A better analogy would be running an infringing ad in a magazine. The magazine would be held liable. As would a newspaper.

    Sounds like someone is showing his bias. Maybe those commission checks for your google ads are clouding your judgement.

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

  4. icon
    Mike (profile), Aug 9th, 2005 @ 1:41pm

    Re: No Subject Given

    No, that analogy has more problems. A newspaper or a magazine has to approve the ad in question. That's not true with Google. And, even in the magazine or newspaper example it's quite fuzzy... and the liability should go to the company creating the ad rather than the newspaper/magazine itself.

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

  5. identicon
    nonuser, Aug 9th, 2005 @ 4:45pm

    the rest of the story

    Google's top litigator beelined out of the courtroom to the executive offices. "I've got some great news", he said breathlessly. "The judge ruled that our ads definitely infringe their trademarks."
    (several seconds of stunned silence)
    Brin: "But I thought you said you had great news."
    Lawyer: "I do! I got to talking with the GEICO guys after the hearing. Turns out I'm going to save a ton of money on my auto insurance."

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

  6. identicon
    SoIF, Aug 9th, 2005 @ 5:34pm

    Re: No Subject Given

    So if somebody creates something, and you are paid distribute it, then it is discovered that the item that you just distributed infringes on some other parties TM license, you should be held liable?

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

  7. identicon
    responsibility, Aug 9th, 2005 @ 5:56pm

    Re: No Subject Given

    Google can and does approve ads. Just because they [may] do it [exclusively] in software doesnt mean it doesnt happen and doesnt mean it doesnt count.

    And just because you think the liability "should go to the company creating the ad" or to the little green dog across the street doesnt make the distributer any less liable for their actions.

    The newspaper AND the magazine ARE liable even if you think they shouldnt be. Just as google should be. They are the ones disseminating the ad across the web.

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

  8. icon
    Mike (profile), Aug 9th, 2005 @ 6:20pm

    Re: No Subject Given

    Sorry. You're not doing a very good job convincing me. No one said anything about "a little green dog across the street" and exaggerating the claim to absurd levels does little to prove your argument other than making it seem like you're stretching.

    The courts have shown in the past that if you're a service provider, you are not responsible for the content others put into your service. This is the same thing.

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

  9. identicon
    Spencer Harden, Sep 9th, 2005 @ 9:59pm

    Settlement Mystery Answered

    Opinion on Google v GEICO
    Should Google have settled so easily?
    Before I answer that question I must address another.
    What was the settlement between Google and GEICO anyway?
    Both claim they won, but because the deal was made privately, no one will know exactly.
    However, hereís a clue.
    Type in GEICO in the Google search below and see what advertiser pops up in the first position.
    When you see GEICO coming up in the top paid advertising position on Google, the search engine that it just sued, you have got to say (as Arsenio Hall used to say), hmmm?
    Sounds like a win/win to me. GEICO gets free advertising. Google doesnít pay a cent.
    However, what isthe real price here?
    The real price is that Google may have just compromised in such a way as to jeopardize relevant search engines forever.
    If GEICO gets free ad placement on Google for holding Google liable for other companyís trademark deceptions, Google andYahoo andMSN and every other relevant search engine must give any company free ad placement or special treatment when third-parties are the culprit, or in other words, if taken to the extreme they cannot make any money as long as courts suggest anyone can sue them instead of the third-party violators who should be held responsible. In fact, it behooves GEICO to encourage rather than discourage third-parties to violate their trademark with deceptive practices because then they donít have to pay top dollar to get the top spot. I think I may have just found a great way to make money. Create a company with a great brand name. Tell other companies to pretend they are my company with a wink and a nod that I will sue Google instead of them, and voila! Free advertising on Google.

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

  10. identicon
    Spencer Harden, Sep 9th, 2005 @ 10:49pm

    Settlement Mystery Answered

    Who really won (lost) in GEICO v. Google? The answer to this mystery may just be in the settlement.

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

  11. icon
    Mike (profile), Sep 10th, 2005 @ 10:54am

    Re: Settlement Mystery Answered

    Er. I see a bunch of insurance dealers. There aren't any Geico ads that I see.

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

  12. identicon
    Vic, Mar 3rd, 2009 @ 6:57am

    No subject given

    I find it significant that the case title (Geico v. Google) suggests that Google decided NOT to cross-claim (sue) against the author of the ad. Whereby their lawyers must have opined there wouldn't be any valid claim in that direction and their best bet was to stop the buck where it belongs, with them.


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

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