Google and GEICO settle AdWords dispute

Big group hug

Google and car insurance firm GEICO have settled a trade mark dispute over the search engine's sale of sponsored search terms "Geico" and "Geico Direct". GEICO had claimed that this use was in breach of its trade mark rights.

Car insurance firm GEICO sued both Google and Yahoo! subsidiary Overture in May 2004 over the sale of its registered trade marks as sponsored search terms in the keyword advertising services of both search engines.

These services work by allowing advertisers to sponsor particular search terms so that, for a fee, whenever that term is searched, an advert will appear next to the organic search results.

Overture settled in late November, but Google continued its fight, winning a significant victory in December when Judge Leonie Brinkema of the Eastern District of Virginia ruled that there was no evidence that the use of the trade marks as sponsored search terms caused confusion.

However, she acknowledged that GEICO had produced survey evidence "sufficient to establish a likelihood of confusion regarding those Sponsored Links in which the trade mark GEICO appears either in the heading or text of the ad."

Accordingly, she allowed the case to continue over the question of whether the use of the trade marked terms in the text of sponsored ads breached GEICO's rights.

This was unlikely to be a major concern for Google: it has always allowed trade mark holders to request that their trade marks do not appear in the headings or text of sponsored links.

In her formal opinion, published in August, Judge Brinkema wrote: "Google may be liable for trademark infringement for the time period before it began blocking such usage or for such ads that have slipped or continue to slip through Google's system for blocking the appearance of GEICO's mark in Sponsored Links."

Google and GEICO confirmed that the lawsuit has been resolved. The terms of settlement remain confidential.

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