Google’s Uncertain Trademark Policies

Awhile ago I complained that Google wouldn’t let me use my own name “Sterling” in an AdWords campaign to promote myself. I was rejected from using it in the signup process, with Google asserting it was a trademarked term. There seemed to be nothing I could do about it. So this was the ad I ultimately wound up running for that reason:

Looking for Greg?
Strategic thinking about local.
His blog and contact info
gesterling.wordpress.com/

At the time I complained on this blog that Google was being sloppy and that this enforcement was in fact a legally incorrect implementation of trademark safeguards. In the context in which I was using “Sterling” it was not and indeed cannot be a protected third-party trademark.

I put that one to bed a long time ago. But I just ran across another example of sloppiness or uneven enforcement on Google and so felt compelled to mention it. Here’s an ad that was triggered when I put the query “Craigslist” into the Google Toolbar to do a navigational search:

Craigslist
Find local buyers & sellers online.
Deal directly. 100s of listings.
LiveDeal.com

Looks like an ad for Craigslist. Site owner LiveDeal is a direct Craigslist competitor, yet it has somehow been permitted to not only use “Craigslist” in the text of the ad, but in the title.

Speaking as an informed layperson, I think pretty clearly this is a trademark violation. Among other things, it would almost certainly create consumer confusion (one of the factual tests for a trademark infringement claim), with someone thinking s/he was going to Craigslist by clicking on the link. “LiveDeal.com” is quite a bit less prominent than Craigslist in the ad.

I don’t point this out to criticize LiveDeal’s conduct (although the company should know better in this case) so much as to point out inconsistency in Google’s behavior, at least as these contrasting examples reflect.

There need to be explicit rules, consistently enforced. Here in its Trademark Complaint Procedure, Google disavows other than very limited duties in resolving potential trademark disputes among advertisers.

If it’s going to take that position it should not block the use of terms in some ads on the front end while permitted clear trademarks to be improperly used in others.


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