The Quick and Easy Guide to German and EU Intellectual Property Law, Trademarks and Copyright
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Google AdWords – Advocate General’s Opinion

There are some news in regards to cases involving the question whether the use of trademarked keywords in Google AdWords constitutes a trademark infringement. The Advocate General Poiares Maduro has delivered his opinion on the joined cases C‑236/08, C‑237/08 and C‑238/08 involving Google (France), Viaticum Luteciel, CNRRH and others, previously ruled by the French Cour de Cassation.

This opinion is not to be confused with a judgement of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) nor is it in any way binding for the ECJ. But still – it is a first outlook on possible further developments, especially as there are also other similar cases (see also my earlier Google related posts here, here and here) pending with the ECJ.

The opinion is clearly guided by the principle that “…. it is important not to allow the legitimate purpose of preventing certain trade mark infringements to lead all trade mark uses to be prohibited in the context of cyberspace…”. The Advocate General also emphasises that “…it is not the use in ads, or on the sites advertised, that is the subject…” of his opinion.

In brief, the Advocate General concludes that the use of trademarked keywords by Google in its AdWords system (the selection process) does not constitute a trademark infringement. Trademark proprietors are referred to intervene “…when the ads are displayed to Internet users…”.

The opinion draws the following key conclusions:

1. The mere selection of a trademarked keyword in Google AdWords or a similar paid Internet referencing service without the trademark proprietor’s consent does not constitute a trademark infringement. Advertisers are not acting in the course of trade when selecting keywords because they are being sold these keywords by Google in relation to the AdWords service. Thereby the advertisers are acting as mere consumers which is private use.

2. A trademark proprietor may not prevent a provider of such services from making available keywords reproducing registered trademarks based on Article 5(1)(a) and (b) of Directive 89/104 and Article 9(1)(a) and (b) of Council Regulation (EC) No 40/94 as AdWords is not identical or similar to those covered by the trade marks.
More clearly the Advocate General rejects “…. the notion that the act of contributing to a trade mark infringement by a third party, whether actual or potential, should constitute an infringement in itself…”, arguing that otherwise newspapers would have to be prohibited as they could potentially be abused by third parties to infringe trademarks as well.

3. Neither may a proprietor of a trademark with a reputation prevent such keyword use based on Article 5(2) of Directive 89/104 and Article 9(1)(c) of Regulation No 40/94 as the other functions of the trade mark (e.g. guaranteeing the quality of goods, communication etc.) should not be considered to be affected as the Advocate General puts it. This conclusion seems vastly result oriented, based on the concern that “… if trade mark proprietors were to be allowed to prevent those uses on the basis of trade mark protection, they would establish an absolute right of control over the use of their trade marks as keywords. Such an absolute right of control would cover, de facto, whatever could be shown and said in cyberspace with respect to the good or service associated with the trade mark…”.

4. Paid Internet referencing services are no information society services consisting in the storage of information provided by the recipient of the service within the meaning of Article 14 of Directive 2000/31/EC. This means Google would not be exempt from liability under national law for featuring content constituting trade mark infringements. The argument is based on the aim of Directive 2003/31 which is to ensure the Internet as a free and open public domain. The Directive aims to achieve this by limiting the liability of those transmitting or storing information.  The Advocate General however argues, that the content featured in Google AdWords (the ads actually displayed) does not deserve this kind of protection as it originates from Google’s relationship with the advertisers and thus AdWords is not a neutral information vehicle.

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September 27, 2009   1 Comment

Using Third Party Trademarks as Metatags

A bit of a golden oldie, but certainly worth another look again, especially in the face of the more recent developments in terms of using trademarked keywords in paid search results (Google AdWords), already discussed here and here.

In its so called “Impuls III” – decision (18. May 2006 – I ZR 183/03) the German Federal Court of Justice has decided, that the unauthorised use of third party signs in the source code of a website is relevant as infringement under the German Trademark Act, even if these signs are imperceptible (to the human eye).

This is no different in cases where such signs are being incorporated in the actual text of a website (be it in very small fonts or font colours matching the background colour). The principle of Exhaustion (Sec. 24 Trademark Act) does only allow such use, if  the specific original product is being promoted. German Federal Court of Justice, “AIDOL” – decision, (8. Feb. 2007 – I ZR 77/04). A similar line-up of font matching is discussed here by Martin Schwimmer in his very comprehensive Trademark Blog (US law).

Based on this, the recent development as to how the Federal Court of Justice is judging third party keywords in paid for search results,  appears a bit surprising at first sight. It seems that in the opinion of the court one of the key differentiators between meta tagging cases and AdWords cases is the “likelihood of confusion”, which isn’t seen as an issue in paid for search results as long as they are distinct from organic results. Hence, the court stresses segregation of paid for search results from organic search results and labelling paid for search results as advertisement (see here and here again).

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May 18, 2009   No Comments

Google Adwords and trademarks – the story continues on the other side of the pond

Apparently hell breaks loose on the other side of the pond reports IP attorney Ron Coleman in his blawg “Likelihood of Confusion®”.

It´s all about Goolge planning to allow trademarked keywords in GoogleAdwords. I suspect Google must have felt inspired by the German Federal Court of Justice and is trying to push a trend from Europe over to the US. This will most certainly  drive Adwords revenue significantly.

See also my previous post on this matter here and here.

Update:
A great post about the whole subject matter can be found here in Shireen Smith’s ip-brands.com blog. She discusses the situation in the UK but also France, Germany and the Netherlands. A must read!

The academic side of things: Eric Goldman in his Technology and Marketing Law blog here. Interesting and thought provoking.

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May 16, 2009   No Comments

Keywords Going Bananas

In the so called “Bananababy Case” the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) has referred the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), to answer the following question (see also my previous post about using company symbols as keywords ):

Is it to be deemed “using in the cause of trade” as to Art. 5 no. 1 Clause 2 let. a of Directive 89/104 EEC, if a third party is using a symbol identical to a trademark without the consent of the respective trademark owner, by booking this symbol as a keyword (here: “bananababy”) in a paid – for search on the Internet (here: Google AdWords) to advertise identical products or services, if

  • the advertisement is separated from the natural search results,
  • the advertisement is clearly labelled as such,
  • and if said advertisement does not display the symbol itself or any reference to the actual trademark owner or trademark owner’s goods?

(Federal Court of Justice – I ZR 125/07 – 22. Jan 2009)

In the relevant case, both parties are selling adult accessories on the Internet. The plaintiff has trademarked the term “bananababy”. The defendant used this term as a keyword on Google AdWords, however did not actually use this term in the advertisement itself.

See also this previous post about a Federal Court decision dealing with keywords, company symbols and the likelihood of confusion. Although,  it is a constellation quite similar to this one, it has not been referred to the ECJ. Reason: Directive 89/104 EEC is not applicable to company symbols.

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May 11, 2009   No Comments