A blog on using the power of Disruptive Business Models to build successful businesses...and other stuff. by Joe Agliozzo

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Trademark Infringement in PPC Advertising

John Battelle has a new post on Google and the potential policy that Google will prevent anyone other than the registered trademark holder from purchasing a trademarked keyword.

Rather than prohibit the purchase of the keyword, Google should regulate the copy that appears in the AdWords ad that appears when the keyword is used. Here's why:

A trademark on a word doesn't mean you "own" the word in all instances and can prohibit everyone else from using the word in any way, shape or form. Think about "Coke". Certainly coke is a trademarked term for colas, but probably not for the substance used in making steel. So a steel producer will not be infringing on the "coke" trademark, if they buy the keyword, coke, right?. Now it is true that the resulting ad is not relevant for one or the other viewer group, so there is no problem here.

Now take the closer case of "American Blinds". Clearly a trademarked term, and if a competitor buys the keyword "American Blinds" they are trying to steal a customer from America Blinds - but "WHAT'S WRONG WITH THAT!" - it's the American way, isn't it?

What you can't do is pose AS American Blinds to steal their customer - but there is nothing wrong with putting your ad up there along with American Blinds' ad so that the consumer can compare your offering with theirs. It is probably also safe to assume that a consumer who searches on American Blinds may want to see not only American Blind's offerings, but also see other competing offerings - isn't the ability to easily compare products one of the great things the internet has brought to consumers?

So the issue is really whether by buying the keyword, you are creating confusion about who the resulting ad belongs to.

The solution is therefore in regulating the ad copy, and not the purchase of the keyword.