As a result of a series of recent UK Trade Mark decisions, Google has announced plans to relax its policy relating to the protection of registered trade marks used in AdWords.
The recent High Court decision clearing Yahoo! Of Trade Mark infringement in a case brought by the proprietor of the trade mark MR SPICY has encouraged Google to bring in a reduced AdWords Trade Mark policy as of 4 April 2008. Until April this year, Google would investigate complaints by trade mark owners against trade mark use by other parties in advertising text and keywords (words registered with Google to trigger a link to an advert appearing on the right hand side of the screen when that the word is entered in the search engine). The MR SPICY decision suggested that such use of a trade mark would not necessarily be trade mark infringement unless the trade mark appeared in the visible text of the sponsored link or on the website linked to the advert, and unless this use led to confusion.
As of 4 April 2008, Google’s new policy is only to investigate complaints relating to registered trade marks that appear in visible text, either as part of the sponsored link or in the website linked to the advertisement. From May 2008, they will take the further step of unblocking keywords that have been disabled in the UK and Ireland as a consequence of such investigations in the past.
The likely outcome of this for trade mark owners is that they will have to out-bid competitors in order to secure key-words relating to their trade marks. Google’s policy may change if future case law clarifies the point, but until then the protection and policing of trade mark rights is likely to be more expensive for trade mark owners.