Google AdWords Giving a Good Wallop to Trademark Law

Introduction

In this era of globalization, we use Internet on a regular basis in our daily lives. People are continuously trying to gain more profits and for this they sometimes adopt illegal practices for promotion of their goods and services. These practices include unauthorized use of a registered name or mark owned by their competitor. This misuse leads to infringement of rights of legitimate owner of the name or mark. A specific kind of software is generally used by search engines, called spider or crawler to gather information of web pages available on the Internet. In order to attract customers towards their websites, owners are continuously making use of “Google AdWords”, “Meta-Tags”, “Hyper- Linking”, “Deep- Linking”, etc.

The present article outlines relation between “Use of Google AdWords” and “Trademark Infringement”. Basically, Google AdWords are keywords to search for a particular category of goods and/or services required by a person. When a person types a particular keyword on a search engine, the search engine matches the keyword entered by the person with the Google AdWords of various web-pages, and accordingly displays the most prominent results. By using the competitors name and/or mark with various permutations and combinations, search engine results are effortlessly manipulated to lure the visitors to one’s website. Google AdWords are used to set the web links in a prioritized manner based on the queries of user. They act as a code for providing information about the web page, which helps in diverting Internet traffic to their websites, causing considerable commercial loss to the legitimate registered owner.

 

What is a Google Ad-Word?

Google AdWord is a successful and client capturing advertisement option that is also a misleading source with respect to the Trade Mark rights of a trademark owner. Google AdWords are basically keywords that are used by an advertiser of certain goods and services to advertise their products, wherein when a specified keyword is searched for, the search engine shows the advertisements/websites of various advertisers. Hence, in this way, Google AdWords are used to divert Internet traffic towards a particular advertisement/website. The keywords used, generally denote someone’s area of business. It is an intelligent system that highlights ads/website depending on the keyword search. Its use is very simple and Google is paid by the website owner for each and every click on their website. AdWords is a paid referencing service started by Google for business promotion.

 

Misuse of Google AdWords leads to Trade Mark Infringement

This is a very important question as to how the use of Google AdWords may lead to Trade Mark infringement. If a person selects any word to be used as an AdWord, which is either similar or identical to a third party’s trademark, does the person infringe the rights of the trademark owner?  It was held in the very famous Consim- Google AdWords controversy[1] that if these AdWords are used by the person which is similar or identical to the third party’s trademark, then this amount to diluting/tarnishing the goodwill or reputation of the third party as this creates confusion in the mind of the customers of the person whose trademark is allegedly infringed. Therefore, this should not be allowed and becomes a case of trademark infringement.

Let us understand this with the help of an illustration: Suppose ‘A’ is the registered trademark owner of certain brand. Now ‘B’ is using AdWords which is in competition to the business owned by ‘A’, and uses Trade Mark of A as one of the paid keywords in the Google Adwords. ‘B’ is therefore diverting the internet traffic towards his own advertisement by using Trade Mark of A such that when users search for A, advertisement of B would also be shown, thereby causing damage to the goodwill/reputation owned by ‘A’, which is not allowed under Trade Marks Law. Hence, selection of Google AdWords becomes very relevant in the eyes of Trademark Law.

A case, Matrix Cellular (International) Services Limited v TSIM Communication Services Private Limitedand IP Attorneys, which represents the plaintiff in the Delhi High Court, wherein the Plaintiff, Matrix Cellular (International) Services Limited, is the proprietor/ owner of the trademark MATRIX since 1995 in respect of ‘International roaming Sim cards’. The defendant is accused of dishonestly using plaintiff’s trade mark i.e. MATRIX as Google AdWords to divert the users to their website by creating a confusion in their minds. The Court recognized that the defendant has engaged in dishonestly using Plaintiff’s trademark to gain profits and the same has resulted in infringement of Plaintiff’s trademark, as a result of which the Court was pleased to grant an interim injunction in the favor of the Plaintiff.

 

Exemplary Landmark Cases

  1. Consim Info Pvt. Ltd. vs. Google India Pvt. Ltd. & Ors. [2]

In this case, Appellant was a private limited company that provided online matrimonial services. In the course of its business, it had adopted several trademarks including Bharat Matrimony, Tamil Matrimony, Telugu Matrimony, Assamese Matrimony, etc. It had registered several domain names with these word marks. The respondents, Google India and its parent company were in the business of offering an advertisement program called AdWords. It generates ‘Sponsored Links’ on the right-hand side of any organic search results produced by Google, closely corresponding to the term searched for.

Google allows the Key Word to appear as a part of the advertisement as well. Therefore, the more the term is searched for, more the chances that it is a heavily demanded Key Word. The competitors would thus bid for the Key Words of other players in their business to catch the attention of user and thereby divert the business meant for such other players. The appellant filed a suit for permanent injunction restraining Google from infringing their trademarks by using them in the AdWords Program and Key Word suggestion Tool. It also restricted Google from passing off their services using the appellant’s trademarks and their closely resembling variants. The issue in question was whether such use of appellant’s trademark by Google’s Ad program amounted to trademark infringement.

Madras High Court thus concluded that the appellant had made a prima facie case and the balance of convenience lied in its favor and thus eventually granted an injunction.

  1. Rescuecom Corp. v. Google Inc. [3]

This is a very interesting case where the main question before the court was whether the use of trademark as keywords amount to Trademark infringement. The US Court of Appeal held that the use of trademark as keywords can be equated to the use of trademark as Meta –Tags. Therefore, Google was held liable for using the trademarked words in its Keyword Suggestion Tool. [4]

Conclusion

Thus, summarizing, use of Trademarks as a Google AdWords can be allowed if it comes under fair use, otherwise the same is restricted. Google is everywhere and it is estimated that approximately 80-85% of the world’s population uses it. If a person wants to mislead someone from the actual website of the proprietor to the impugned one it is the best platform available. Thus, customers are lured and are often misguided by the person violating by increasing the traffic and demand towards his/their website. The use of such Google AdWords is entirely dependent upon the facts and circumstances of case. Google AdWords being special keywords are embedded in web-pages and are often used by search engines in deciding the relevant websites to show in a search result. Therefore, the unfair and illegal use of the Google AdWords with respect to the Trade Marks leads to the Trademark infringement and irreparable damage to the legitimate owner. Choice of keywords becomes very important in this regard otherwise it would lead to infringement of other person’s rights. The concept of Google AdWords in relation to Intellectual Property should be understood and their misuse should be prevented.

About the Author: Ms. Yogita Agrawal, Legal Intern at Khurana & Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorneys. Can be reached at abhijeet@khuranaandkhurana.com

 

References

  1. Consim Info Pvt. Ltd. vs. Google India Pvt. Ltd. & Ors. 2013 54 PTC 578 (Mad).
  2. 2013 54 PTC 578 (Mad).
  3. 562 F.3d 123 (2nd Cir. 2009).
  4. Mattel Inc. and Others vs. Jayant Agarwalla and Others 2008 (38) PTC 416; Samsung Electronics Company Limited & Anr. vs. Kapil Wadhwa & Ors. C.S. (OS) No.1155/2011.

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