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Google extends trademarks-in-ads policy to whole world

Insert usual blather about search quality and choice as motive

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Google has altered its policy on the use of trademarks on AdWords, extending permission for advertisers to use rivals' trademarks in their ads to every nation on earth.

The text ads giant has posted a trademark policy update in which it offers the following explanation for the change:

Google's goal is to provide our users with the most relevant information, whether from search results or advertisements, and we believe users benefit from having more choice. Our policy aims to balance the interests of users, advertisers, and trademark owners, so we will continue to investigate trademark complaints concerning use of trademarks in ad text. In addition, this change means that the AdWords policy on trademarks as keywords is now harmonized throughout the world. A consistent policy and user experience worldwide benefits users, advertisers, and trademark owners alike.

The update says Trademarks from China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Brazil are covered by the decision.

Google's policy was first introduced in 2008, at which point it was possible to bid on trademark keywords with the owner's permission. In 2010 it changed the policy after winning a case in European Court where it was decided Google had not abused trademarks by allowing advertisers to use the name “Louis Vuitton” in ads that had little to do with the maker of posh luggage and accessories. That change meant retailers who sell a trademarked brands' products could use the trademark in AdWords ads.

It's unclear if those who have nothing to do with a trademark can legally use them or not.

Google's policy document on the matter says “Google will not investigate or restrict the use of trademark terms in keywords, even if a trademark complaint is received.” The ad giant also advises advertisers seek legal counsel before using others' trademarks.

Google's AdWords T&C's document is largely silent on the matter, as the link it offers for guidance concerns only Google's trademarks.

Google does, however, provide a register of entities permitted to use trademarks, although as we've seen above seems disinclined to enforce it.

Why make this change now?

The inclusion of Australia in the list of nations where the new policy applies may be notable, as a few weeks ago Google won a case in that nation's High Court in which it was found not to have misled or deceived the public by publishing ads in which advertisers used rivals' names.

That case centred on Australian classified advertising outfit The Trading Post's decision, in 2005, to buy some ads on Google that it hoped would appeal to those shopping for a car.

The ads were targeted to appear when users searched for two car dealers, Klosters Ford and Charlestown Toyota, both located in the regional city of Newcastle.

The ads mentioned the dealers by name, but when clicked on sent users to the Trading Post's website, which carried no mention of, or information about, either dealer. The judges in that case held it was the advertisers, not Google, that were out of line.

With that precedent in its pocket, plus the Loius Vuitton case, perhaps Google decided it can weather any trademark storm?

One other outcome is increased importance for your browser's status bar: hovering your mouse over an ad to see just where that link promising an ice-cold CokeTMwill take now you seems more sensible that ever before. ®

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