May 18, 2004 12:03 PM PDT

Geico sues Google, Overture over trademarks

Auto insurance company Geico has sued Google and Overture Services for allegedly violating its trademarks in search-related advertisements, in the latest legal salvo against the Internet companies.

Geico, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, the investment company owned by Warren Buffett, filed suit against Google and Yahoo-owned Overture on May 4, in federal court in Alexandria, Va.

The insurer charged the two companies with infringing on its trademarks when they sold them as keywords to Geico's rivals, so that the protected terms could appear in sponsored search results. According to the suit, that practice causes consumer confusion, in violation of the Lanham Act, the primary federal law covering trademark registration and protection.

"This practice deliberately misleads consumers and allows Geico's competitors and these defendants to illegally exploit for their own commercial purposes Geico's investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in its brand," company spokeswoman Janice Minshall wrote in an e-mail.

The insurer is seeking damages and an injunction against Google's and Overture's use of its service marks in their advertising programs.

Geico, the largest direct marketer of auto insurance in the United States, is the most high-profile American company to have filed a complaint against Google and Overture over their ad-selling practices. It launched its lawsuit only weeks after Google announced plans to limit concessions made to trademark owners regarding their rights to keywords sold in its popular ad program.

The suit also comes only weeks after Google filed to raise $2.7 billion in an initial public offering. In its S-1 filing, the company highlighted the financial risks it would face if it were forced to limit sales of keyword ads to generic words. Roughly 95 percent of Google's $1 billion in annual revenue comes from search-related advertising, according to its filing.

Complaints abound about misuse of trademarks in search engine ads. Google and Overture have built billion-dollar businesses by marrying text ads with search results; the technique has been effective because Web searching is such a common method for people to find products and services. Consequently, more companies have sought control over their brand names and trademarked terms in paid search. Businesses including American Blind and Wallpaper Factory have filed trademark complaints against search engines.

Still, U.S. law is unclear about how far search engines must go to make sure trademarks aren't infringed upon.

Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In the past, representatives from the company have said that trademark law allows for the use of registered marks, as long as there is no likelihood of consumer confusion.

An Overture representative said the company cannot comment on pending litigation. But Overture employs a fair-use policy for evaluating requests from trademark owners.

"In cases in which an advertiser has bid on a term that may be the trademark of another, Overture allows the bids only if the advertiser presents content on its Web site that (a) refers to the trademark...without creating a likelihood of consumer confusion...or (b) uses the term in a generic or merely descriptive manner," according to a notice posted on the company's Web site.

In contrast, Google has adopted a more hands-off approach, opting to review fewer trademark complaints. In April, the search company began allowing U.S. and Canadian advertisers to bid on any keyword, including trademarked terms, in its sponsored listings service.

Keyword policy
Previously, Google had granted requests from advertisers, including 1-800 Contacts and eBay, to bar competitors from bidding on their trademarked names. Google will now only review trademark complaints that relate to text appearing in sponsored listings on its Web site and those of its partners.

According to Geico's complaint, the insurer considered Google's policy change before pursuing legal action: "Google's recent change in trademark policy constitutes a deliberate decision to use the registered trademarks of other companies, including Geico, for the financial benefit of Google and to the detriment of (others)."

Google faces a number of lawsuits similar to Geico's. Louis Vuitton sued Google and its French subsidiary for similar alleged trademark infringement, and a French court ordered Google to cease the practice and pay a fine. In January, American Blind and Wallpaper Factory filed suit against Google in a New York federal court, alleging trademark infringement.

In an effort to preempt American Blind's suit, Google late last year asked a U.S. District Court judge in San Jose, Calif., for a declaratory judgment in the dispute. American Blind still insists, though, that Google stop selling keyword phrases that the company claims violate its trademarks.

Overture faces two pending U.S. trademark suits, one filed by JR Cigar and another by Pets Warehouse.

Paid search is one of the fastest-growing and most closely watched segments of the online advertising business. According to Jupiter Research, paid search will grow from $1.6 billion in sales in 2003 to $2.1 billion this year, and it will continue to grow at a compound annual rate of 20 percent through 2008.

At least some of that growth could be jeopardized if legal rulings bar Google and other search engines from selling off well-known terms such as "Wells Fargo" in their ad programs, legal experts have said.

Research shows that many inquiries at search engines are for brand names or trademarked terms. Within the finance category, for example, more than half the total searches are for branded keywords such as Wells Fargo, according to ComScore Networks, a market research company.

"This is yet another reminder we have to question the core revenue-generating practices of Google and Overture and whether it's sustainable as a legal proposition," said Eric Goldman, an assistant professor of law at Marquette University Law School.

5 comments

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Warren Buffett might get Google for copyrights also
Keyword (Lawyers) trademark traffic is not the only traffic Google shifts around, they redirect traffic from the search results to ADSENSE publishers too. Look at the research at <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.webcenter.squarespace.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.webcenter.squarespace.com</a> and you will see it is not only large businesses that they hurt. Better hope Mr. Buffett does not get you for copyrights for using his words in your IPO offering, Good luck Goo
Posted by anthonycea (103 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Google Sponsors
How do you go about contacting Google. I'm a pay-per-click Google Sponsor. My site is www.specialskin.com, however, if you search for the products I sell, Nouveau Cosmeceuticals, this sponsor also appears:

Wrinkle Cure
By Nicholas Perricone. Only $22.95.
Qualified orders over $25 ship free
Amazon.com

He sells books and skin care products, but not the products I sell.
Thus, Google is allowing him to purchase my product's keywords.
How do other people file suits and complaints about the tactic he's using?
Thank you.
Sandy Stewart
www.specialskin.com
Email: SpecialSkin@comcast.net
Posted by (1 comment )
Link Flag
Google ripped me off
I had started my own internet company ALLNYCARS.COM. I opened an google adwords account. I went to dealers to get them to sign up on my site to host thier used cars online so customers shopping on the net can come across my site and find the car they are looking for and call the dealer and they go buy the car.
In 2005 I have been a pay per clicks with google adwords and i had to limit the amount to spend as my business is just starting out. At the close of 2005 I had spent over $8,200 with google alone. Since I had started with the pay per clicks my site hasnt come up in thier organic search results. Yet in yahoo and msn you find my site usually in #1,2,3 postions under the keywords "used cars on long island" and "used cars in new york".
So i changed the site around to be compliant with google webmasters guidelines. I had optumized different pages for certain keywords. Still no results in google search engine. They do have my pages indexed but they dont come up. I have emailed help@google.com but they insist nothing is being blocked.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.google.com/search?q=site:http%3A%2F%2Fwww.allnycars.com%2F&#38;hl=en" target="_newWindow">http://www.google.com/search?q=site:http%3A%2F%2Fwww.allnycars.com%2F&#38;hl=en</a>

I have started a major link compain since that is supposidy how google ranks your website, with links,not keywords. They are surpressing my site in organic search results and I dont know why. Yahoo and MSN are NOT. Also google is blocking my links as well take a look at these 3 searches and see what I am talking about.


<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.google.com/search?num=100&#38;hl=en&#38;lr=&#38;safe=off&#38;q=link%3Ahttp%3A%2F%2Fwww.allnycars.com%2F&#38;btnG=Search" target="_newWindow">http://www.google.com/search?num=100&#38;hl=en&#38;lr=&#38;safe=off&#38;q=link%3Ahttp%3A%2F%2Fwww.allnycars.com%2F&#38;btnG=Search</a>


<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://search.yahoo.com/search?ei=utf-8&#38;fr=slv1-adbe&#38;p=link%3ahttp%3a%2f%2fwww.allnycars.com%2f" target="_newWindow">http://search.yahoo.com/search?ei=utf-8&#38;fr=slv1-adbe&#38;p=link%3ahttp%3a%2f%2fwww.allnycars.com%2f</a>

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://search.msn.com/results.aspx?q=link%3Ahttp%3A%2F%2Fwww.allnycars.com%2F&#38;FORM=MSNH&#38;srch_type=0" target="_newWindow">http://search.msn.com/results.aspx?q=link%3Ahttp%3A%2F%2Fwww.allnycars.com%2F&#38;FORM=MSNH&#38;srch_type=0</a>

Copy and paste this if links dont work, for google,yahoo and msn

site:www.allnycars.com/

link:www.allnycars.com/
Someone please help me get my business off the ground ( get google to list my site) its not right being held hostage by google to keep me on pay per clicks. Any other google lawsuits I want to be in.
Thank you,
Randy
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.allnycars.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.allnycars.com</a>
Posted by relvistcb (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Google ripped me off
I had started my own internet company ALLNYCARS.COM. I opened an google adwords account. I went to dealers to get them to sign up on my site to host thier used cars online so customers shopping on the net can come across my site and find the car they are looking for and call the dealer and they go buy the car.
In 2005 I have been a pay per clicks with google adwords and i had to limit the amount to spend as my business is just starting out. At the close of 2005 I had spent over $8,200 with google alone. Since I had started with the pay per clicks my site hasnt come up in thier organic search results. Yet in yahoo and msn you find my site usually in #1,2,3 postions under the keywords "used cars on long island" and "used cars in new york".
So i changed the site around to be compliant with google webmasters guidelines. I had optumized different pages for certain keywords. Still no results in google search engine. They do have my pages indexed but they dont come up. I have emailed help@google.com but they insist nothing is being blocked.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.google.com/search?q=site:http%3A%2F%2Fwww.allnycars.com%2F&#38;hl=en" target="_newWindow">http://www.google.com/search?q=site:http%3A%2F%2Fwww.allnycars.com%2F&#38;hl=en</a>

I have started a major link compain since that is supposidy how google ranks your website, with links,not keywords. They are surpressing my site in organic search results and I dont know why. Yahoo and MSN are NOT. Also google is blocking my links as well take a look at these 3 searches and see what I am talking about.


<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.google.com/search?num=100&#38;hl=en&#38;lr=&#38;safe=off&#38;q=link%3Ahttp%3A%2F%2Fwww.allnycars.com%2F&#38;btnG=Search" target="_newWindow">http://www.google.com/search?num=100&#38;hl=en&#38;lr=&#38;safe=off&#38;q=link%3Ahttp%3A%2F%2Fwww.allnycars.com%2F&#38;btnG=Search</a>


<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://search.yahoo.com/search?ei=utf-8&#38;fr=slv1-adbe&#38;p=link%3ahttp%3a%2f%2fwww.allnycars.com%2f" target="_newWindow">http://search.yahoo.com/search?ei=utf-8&#38;fr=slv1-adbe&#38;p=link%3ahttp%3a%2f%2fwww.allnycars.com%2f</a>

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://search.msn.com/results.aspx?q=link%3Ahttp%3A%2F%2Fwww.allnycars.com%2F&#38;FORM=MSNH&#38;srch_type=0" target="_newWindow">http://search.msn.com/results.aspx?q=link%3Ahttp%3A%2F%2Fwww.allnycars.com%2F&#38;FORM=MSNH&#38;srch_type=0</a>

Copy and paste this if links dont work, for google,yahoo and msn

site:www.allnycars.com/

link:www.allnycars.com/
Someone please help me get my business off the ground ( get google to list my site) its not right being held hostage by google to keep me on pay per clicks. Any other google lawsuits I want to be in.
Thank you,
Randy
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.allnycars.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.allnycars.com</a>
Posted by relvistcb (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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