Google’s mission statement is: Organizing the World’s Information. In terms of delivering content that can accomplish this, they have done a great job. I use Gmail, a Google homepage, Google Calendar, and sometimes even Google Documents. Yet there are times when they seem to blur the line between organizing and delivering information and influencing behavior.
In a recent lawsuit, American Airlines charges that Google is unfairly selling ad-words to competitors, so that if you type in “American Airlines” in a Google Search, the accompanying ads are those of the competitors.
Google Adwords dive-bombed by American Airlines
Published Friday 17th August 2007 20:09 GMT
Yet another trademark owner has gone to war over Google’s keyword advertising. But this time it’s a name everyone knows: American Airlines.
Yesterday, the world’s largest airline slapped a federal suit on the world’s largest search engine, claiming that Google’s cash-cow of an ad system infringes on American’s rather extensive trademark portfolio.
“Some individuals and entities attempt to take advantage of consumers by marketing their products or services using the brands of others,” reads a filing with the US District for the Northern District of Texas. “This lawsuit involves exactly such a situation - efforts by certain companies to free ride on American Airlines’ brands through use of Google technology.”
Google is to blame, the suit argues, because it allows third-party businesses to piggy-back their ads on search engine keywords that violate American Airlines trademarks - like “American Airlines,” “AA,” and “A A.”
Close to a dozen companies have filled similar suits against Google, including Geico and American Blinds, but none can match the profile of an American Airlines. “Geico is a pretty well known brand,” Santa Clara University law professor and tech law blogger (http://blog.ericgoldman.org/archives/2007/08/american_airlin.htm) Eric Goldman told The Reg, “but American Airlines is one of those highest-echelon brands, one of the brands that almost everyone is familiar with.” And American Airlines has lots of money to pay its lawyers.
American’s argument is, shall we say, multi-faceted. On one level, the airline claims that Google is “directly” infringing its trademarks, that the search engine is using intellectual property owned by American Airlines to rake in cold, hard cash.
“The law doesn’t really distinguish between me slapping a competitor’s brand on my knock-off good and Google offering the ability to make a keyword match on its database,” Goldman told us. “The fact that Google is taking money for having made an association on someone’s trademark could, in theory, meet the trademark statute standards” - i.e. break the law.
What’s more, the suit argues, Google is actually suggesting that advertisers purchase keywords that violate American Airlines trademarks. “Google has a sandbox where it suggests what keywords [advertisers] should buy and it will routinely suggests third-party trademarks,” Goldman explained. “If you go onto the site and say ‘Hey, I’m thinking about advertising in the travel business,’ it will say ‘Have you considered the following keywords’ - and American Airlines trademarks may be on that list.”
The airline makes a boatload of additional claims - with some holding more water than others. At one point, it gets huffy because Google doesn’t allow keyword matches on its own trademark, and it complains that when you click on links related to American Airlines trademarks, you’re taken to sites that sell both American Airlines tickets and tickets from competitors. You might as well complain that your local grocery store is selling both Coke and Pepsi even though it ran a Pepsi ad in the local paper.
This came to mind when I got an e-mail from Amy of Diabetes Mine. To the right on my Gmail was the following:
Clicking on the top link (DiabetesIsCurable.com), you see the following:
If what the site says is really true, then there must be an enormous conspiracy that I am not aware of. I don’t know any of the seven secrets of diabetes and am not presently withholding secrets from my patients about diabetes.
So you see why I am afraid. Google gets the bulk of its revenue from advertising. If they are willing to sell adwords to the highest bidder, what is stopping sites like this from overwhelming the legitimate medical websites? What about the pharmaceutical companies doing the same thing? At the very least, this will cause a huge amount of confusion on the part of patients looking for reliable medical information.
Google will have to do a huge amount of work to establish credibility with the medical profession. If they are to put themselves forward as a legitimate website for healthcare related needs, they will either have to exercise a large amount of editorial control, or they will have to come up with a totally new financial model for their foray into the healthcare arena.
I am not sure they know the nature of the hornet’s nest they are stepping into.