Google Advertising at a Crossroads?

Is Google really in trouble? According to an article in the International Herald Tribune, Google is losing some high profile trademark cases around the world based on its system, of selling advertising based on keyword. Google has been sued unsuccessfully in the US before and by some huge names. Playboy, AXA and American Blind & Wallpaper Factory have all tried to stop Google from selling ads based on their keywords.

In the US the Google argument goes something like this. I can choose to run my Toyota ad in a car magazine in the review of a Ford truck. Selling keywords is basically the same idea online. This may be an oversimplification but you get the idea.

The question becomes will courts in other countries use the same logic? On the surface what Google does must be the worst thing in the world for companies with strong brands as it allows competitors with no investment in brand-building to take advantage of the trademarks of others. Still, this is something that is analogous to what can be done in a magazine or newspaper today. Google’s Adwords program just makes it cheaper and easier to accomplish.

There is a second part to this story as Google is also being sued for using images and stories of other websites without permission. Interestingly the story focuses exclusively on lawsuits in France where Google seems to be losing the trademark battles.

The scope of what search engines can do and how they make money is in question if courts in other parts of the world rule against Google. Google is the most well-known name in search and is blazing a new trail and in doing so they may be responsible for setting legal precedents that the search industry will follow for years to come.

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