Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Google Loses a Trademark Case in France

Back in 2004, Louis Vuitton sued Google in France for improperly using its trademarks in advertising.

Recently, Google has lost its appeal in the case. The lawsuit claimed that Google's use of "Louis Vuitton" in its AdWords program (in which companies bid on keyword advertising on various websites) resulted in "trademark counterfeiting, unfair competition and misleading advertising."

Louis Vuitton applauded the ruling (of course). "It was absolutely unthinkable that a company like Google be authorized, in the scope of its advertising business, to sell the Louis Vuitton trademark to third parties, specifically to Web sites selling counterfeits," a company representative said in a statement. (Personally, I'm having a hard time substantiating Louis Vuitton's claim that Google WAS sending consumers to counterfeit goods. Any article talking about the suit seems to only say that was a fear of Louis Vuitton.)

Louis Vuitton should be glad they sued in a French court. Why? Google recently won a smiliar lawsuit in the U.S. brought by Geico.

Either way, Google seems to not care much, especially since their AdWords policies have changed to remove trademarks from the AdWords program.

This case brings us to a topic in American trademark law that can be overlooked. It's called "nominative (fair) use." There are times when it is permissible to use another mark. The purpose of the nominative fair use defense is to allow a third party fairly to describe another's product. If someone types "Louis Vuitton" into Google, shouldn't advertisers selling Louis Vuitton bags be shown, even if they are paid advertisements? How else can "Louis Vuitton" bags be described? "Overpriced fabric boxes that hold clothing that will be damaged on the flight to the vacation"?

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