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Companies warned of competitors using their name for Adword

Zone IP (The Zone Corporation)
26 February 2013

Companies warned to watch for competitors using their names in Google Adword campaigns

A New Zealand trade mark law firm is warning businesses to beware after an increase in complaints from companies whose competitor's are using their name or brand names in Google's AdWords campaigns.

Intellectual property expert and lawyer, Theodore Doucas of Zone Law, an intellectual property law firm and Zone IP, an intellectual property consultancy in Wellington, said that while the Internet is now the de facto trading hub of our time, it is still the wild west when it comes to protecting company rights.

It is not uncommon for a company to search its name or website online only to find that a competitor’s advertisement appears above it in the search engine rankings, blatantly displaying the company’s name.

“A common question we get nowadays is ‘can advertisers use their competitor's name or product brands as keywords (in online Adword campaigns) to advertise their own product or service?

“There has been mixed results coming out of courts around the world when it comes to protecting your name or brand from competitors who use it in their Adword campaigns – which is not good for the plaintiffs in these cases.

“However, it is Google’s policy to enforce a company’s right to its trade mark provided that the trade mark is registered and you can provide a registration certificate.”

Google itself states that: “If a trademark owner files a complaint with Google about the use of their trademark in AdWords ads, Google will investigate and may enforce certain restrictions on the use of that trademark in AdWords ads and as keywords.

“There are multiple factors that determine when trademarks can be used in AdWords ads and as keywords. Along with the factors described below, these policies apply only to trademarked terms where the owner submitted a valid complaint to Google and requested that the terms be restricted in Google ad campaigns.” – Google Adwords Trademark Policy.

Doucas said that if your name or brand is not protected with a trade mark registration and Google won’t act, there is always litigation in the areas of the Fair Trading Act and under Common Law, but it’s a murky, difficult and expensive exercise.

“My advice is to register your trade mark – it really isn’t expensive – and save yourself the hassle and expense of later having to defend yourself if a competitor raids your brands.”

There are three steps a company should take to protect its brand and name from competitors using them in their own Adword campaigns:

1. Register your trade mark. A registration certificate is prima facie evidence of the validity of your registered mark.

2. If a competitor uses your trade mark in Google’s Adwords, contact Google with your trade mark registration.

“In our experience, Google always acts on trademark issues provided you can prove ownership.”

3. Monitor your trade mark by opening a Google Alert for any references to your name or brand. The service from Google is free, easy and quick.

If you continue to have issues with your competitor, contact your trade mark lawyer.

About Zone IP

ZONE IP is an intellectual property consultancy providing authoritative advice in trademarks, copyright and branding. ZONE IP is headed by a trade marks lawyer and a former Assistant Commissioner of Patents, Trade Marks and Designs of the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ).


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