Google's Trademark Disputes Expand

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Google's trademark policy came under more fire this week, when German software company Metaspinner Media obtained a court order against Google selling keyword ads triggered by a trademarked term.

Metaspinner said it obtained the order from a Hamburg district court in reaction to Google selling ads to competitors tied to searches for "preispiraten," the trademarked name of Metaspinner's price-comparison software.

"It shouldn't be possible that the company's considerable expenditures to build up the brand 'Preispiraten' are exploited and siphoned off by advertising third parties and particularly by Google," Stefan Maas, an attorney for Metaspinner, said in a statement.

Google's German Web site now displays only a single ad from Metaspinner in response to queries for "preispiraten."

Google recently loosened its trademark policy in the United States and Canada to let advertisers bid on any trademarked term as long as they do not use it in their ad copy. The company said it made the change to give searchers more choice and to avoid the situation of Google acting as an arbitrator of trademark disputes. Previously, Google would remove trademarked terms from its system at the request of advertisers.

Abroad, however, it follows its old policy of removing keywords from its bidding system in response to trademark owners' objections.

In a case brought by another German software firm, a Munich court ruled last year that Google is not liable for advertisers infringing on trademarks through Google's ad system. The court ruled that advertisers bear the responsibility for respecting trademarks when making their keyword choices.

In addition to cases in the United States, such as those brought by American Blind & Wallpaper and Pets Warehouse, Google faces other legal challenges abroad. In France, insurance giant AXA sued Google last month claiming trademark infringement, and the search engine lost a case there last year. Google has appealed that ruling.

Google listed these trademark cases as a risk factor in its IPO filing last week, saying they would divert resources and management attention.

Company officials did not respond to requests for comment on the Metaspinner action.

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