Did you know that Google is every bit as concerned as you are that some other company may infringe upon their company’s trademark? What is infringement and why should I care, you may ask.
Trademark infringement, at its core, is when one party adopts a trademark that is confusingly similar to the trademark of another. They do this because, in essence, they want to create confusion in the marketplace among consumers so they can steal customers from the original trademark holder.
Infringement takes many forms. In the good old days it may simply have been opening up a brick and mortar store front with a name for the store that was confusingly similar to an established brand. Who doesn’t recall the restaurant McDougal’s from the movie Coming to America and its shockingly similar appearance to the iconic McDonald’s brand. A perfect example of infringement to its core.
But in today’s increasingly global economy brands face new challenges as infringers have moved online. Most people are familiar with what has become known as cybersquatting, where some unscrupulous person registers a domain name that is similar to another’s established trademark rights. Squatters may sell competing products from a site posted to that domain or merely use the domain as an automatic redirect to the other’s competing web site. But there are far more subtle ways people can infringe upon your brand online that, when spotted, must be handled swiftly.
One such form of infringement is by bidding on your brands or trademarks as keywords in pay-per-click advertising.
As the readers of this article may or may not know, Google and the other search engines derive revenue by and through their pay-per-click advertising programs. When you search for a term your search results will bring up both organic (e.g., results the search engine deems to be the most relevant to your search terms via a secret algorithm each search engine respectively employs) as well as sponsored (e.g., results that are paid advertising typically appearing above and to the left of the organic returns) results.
Sponsored results and the ads that appear therewith are returned because the persons or companies who place the ads bid on specific keywords that, when searched, display those sponsored results as well as the organic as referenced above.
Returning to our discussion on modern-day infringement, today one well-recognized form of infringement occurs against your brand when a competitor of yours bids on your trademark as a pay-per-click keyword such that when consumers search for your goods or services online your competitor’s advertisements will appear in the sponsored results.
For instance, and this is just a hypothetical for the purposes of this article, let’s say Pepsi wants to drive potential customers to its web site every time someone searches for Coca Cola. What they could do is open a pay-per-click account with Google or another search engine and bid on the keywords “Coca Cola.” Then every time a consumer searches on that search engine for “Coca Cola” Pepsi’s ad would appear in the sponsored results.
Well, fortunately for trademark holders, this is against the law insofar as it creates a form of infringement known generally as initial interest confusion. What can you do to stop it and protect your brand online? Simply follow three steps to create a Google pay-per-click monopoly for your brand:
- Assemble a list of your trademarks
Depending upon the size of your organization, this may be as simple as your company’s name or as complex as the name and multiple trademarks used to identify your company’s various goods, services, and advertising campaigns.
- Registered and unregistered trademarks
In assembling the list of your trademarks, determine which are registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and which are not. For those that are registered it is highly recommended that you have their registration number available. For those that are not, it is advisable to get an application on file to protect the same prior to the next step as Google is more likely to respect your trademark rights if you retain an application or registration number from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
- General complaint
File a general trademark complaint with Google using Google Adwords Trademark Complain Form. Google will then investigate your claimed rights in the trademarks submitted and, if such is able to be verified, will then preclude others from bidding on your trademarks in pay-per-click advertising and diverting your customers away from your web site using your own trademarks against you.
So go online and get that Google pay-per-click monopoly for your brands. It’s just that simple.