Google Mulls Options After Geico Trademark Rulings

Google executives are considering whether to settle a trademark-infringement lawsuit with insurance giant Geico after a judge ruled against them on one part of the case but for them on another.

In her written opinion last week, U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema sided with Geico in saying that the use of trademarks in the text of Google's ads was “likely to cause confusion.” But Brinkema also ruled that Google can use trademarks as keywords to trigger the appearance of ads.

Geico filed the original case against Google and Overture after its trademark appeared in competitors' ads. Overture settled in December, but Google continued to fight and is “still considering our options” in the next phase of the case, said Michael Kwun, litigation counsel for Google.

Kwun noted that Google won part of the case: The judge ruled against Geico's allegation that using its trademark as keywords to trigger the appearance of ads causes a “likelihood of confusion.”

“That confirms that Google's policy on trademarks and keywords is lawful,” he said. “Google is extremely pleased with the outcome of this case.”

As for the ruling favoring Geico, Kwun said Google protects trademarks through its AdWords trademark policy.

“We already don't allow the use of trademarks in our ads, when the owner objects,” he said.

But he acknowledged that problems have occurred with trademarks appearing in ads.

“When our systems were less mature, we didn't always catch all of the instances, for example, when Geico ran in the text of a competitor's ads,” Kwun said. “Today, though, our technology is much more sophisticated than it once was, and there is much less of a chance that that sort of thing is going to happen.”

Brinkema stayed the case for a month, giving the companies a chance to settle.

Christine Blank covers online marketing and advertising, including e-mail marketing and paid search, for DM News and To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting

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