Google seeks legal clarification on trademarks

Google Inc. has asked a U.S. District Court judge to rule that keyword-based advertisements on the Web search engine do not violate trademark law.

Google, in a filing with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California Nov. 26, asked the court to rule that it was not violating the trademarks of American Blind and Wallpaper Factory Inc. by selling keyword-based advertising to competitors of American Blind and Wallpaper. In July 2002, American Blind and Wallpaper's lawyer sent Google a letter accusing the search engine of violating its trademarks through the use of more than 35 keyword combinations, including "american wallpaper discount," and "decoratetoday.com."

"Many of (American Blind's) competitors have exploited the notoriety and success of (American Blind), and flagrantly attempted to confuse consumers and capitalize illegally on (Amercian Blind's) goodwill and reputation by purchases identical and substantially similar keywords from search engines," Joe Charno, American Blind's vice president of marketing, advertising and e-commerce wrote in a letter to Google July 11.

That letter demands that Google immediately stop selling keyword-based ads similar to American Blind's trademarks to a competing vendor of blinds. "In the event our request is not complied with in the next seven days, we will have no choice but to involve our legal department," Charno wrote.

A Nov. 12 e-mail from American Blind to Google also threatened a trademark lawsuit similar to one brought against Google by French handbag seller Louis Vuitton SA in August, according to Google's complaint.

In October, French travel firms Viaticum and Luteciel sued Google's French subsidiary for trademark violation and together won Euro 75,000 (US$90,570).

A woman who answered the telephone at American Blind's Plymouth, Michigan, headquarters Friday, said two company employees qualified to comment on the case were unavailable.

Google's Nov. 26 court filing asks the judge to rule that its keyword-triggered advertising does not violate trademarks, as well as court costs in the American Blind trademark dispute. Its lawyers argued in their complaint that terms such as "blind," "wallpaper," and "factory" are descriptive and shouldn't enjoy trademark protection.

Google issued a statement Friday: "Google filed this action because we were being threatened with an imminent lawsuit by American Blind and Wallpaper Factory. We seek to have the court confirm our view that this methodology properly respects trademark owners' rights while at the same time simplifying the ad targeting process for our advertisers. Such a decision will ultimately benefit the online advertising industry at large, as well as Google."

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