Google allows businesses to purchase advertising space, causing your advertising material and website link to appear more prominently as a result of a search for a particular keyword. However, companies that have a trademark on certain words may have a case for trademark infringement for these types of actions.
Can you use Competitor’s Names in AdWords?
In 2017, the Tipsy Elves, LLC sued Ugly Christmas Sweater, Inc. on this very cause of action. Ugly Christmas Sweater was receiving traffic to their website via Google Adwords placing their website prominently upon a user’s search for “tipsy elves”. Tipsy Elves, LLC sued stating that the use of tipsy elves by Ugly Christmas Sweater as a key term search in their Google Adword was an infringement of their trademark and was using deceptive tactics that was likely to confuse consumers. However, before the case could be decided the matter was settled and Ugly Christmas Sweater no longer appears in searches for “tipsy elves”.
Similarly, Rosetta Stone Ltd. brought suit against Google directly due to the Google Adwords situation. This time the Fourth Circuit overturned the district courts summary judgment ruling in favor of Rosetta Stone stating that Google was not in violation of the Lanham Act. This case was also settled before any further litigation could proceed.
Based on these two cases it would appear that companies may have a better case against the company that is paying for their product to appear in a search based on the Google Adwords search rather than against Google directly. This would require further litigation to have a set guideline on how to address these types of cases.