Yesterday, Google concluded a 6-year legal contest with the Australian government’s consumer protection agency, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). The Australian High Court ruled in favor of Google, who had argued that it was not responsible for the messages in the ads placed by advertisers on its results pages.
This is a trend we’ve been noticing for a while, and have posted about at times. Here’s a brief timeline of some significant inflection points in the history of AdWords:
- April 2004: Google lifts the limitations on trademarked keywords in the United States.
- September 2006: Chief U.S. District Court Judge dismisses Rescuecom Corporation’s claims against Google, deciding that meta tags do not qualify for the “use in commerce” clause of trademark law.
- April 2008: Google brings its U.S. trademark policy to new countries, lifting trademark restrictions in the UK and Ireland.
- April 2009: Rescuecom decision is vacated by the Second Circuit Court.
- June 2009: Google expands trademark bidding internationally to 190 countries.
But back to the most recent news. Australia’s lower court had originally ordered Google to set up a compliance program. Now, obviously, Google no longer has to. This is significant, because it places the compliance burden on brands. Not Google.
While Google will likely provide assistance through its standard complaint tools which are available in the U.S., each brand will ultimately have to do the research necessary to protect its trademarks. Once it finds something to report, it can send that over to Google. But it can’t expect Google to proactively monitor ads for the brand’s trademarks.
Precedent for Further Policy Expansion?
Google’s win is particularly interesting in this case, since Google had been preventing trademark bidding in Australia up until recently. In 2009, when Google expanded trademark bidding to 190 countries (in the timeline above), Australia was one of the few remaining countries where trademark bidding was prevented.
This trend could mean that other trademark bidding hold-outs (Brazil, Italy, Portugal and dozens of others) may soon experience similar changes to their policies. Google may follow the same procedure: a change of policies supported by an aggressive legal campaign. After all, not so long ago we saw Google prevail over Louis Vuitton in France. Other countries may already be well along in the process.
Our recommendation: brands should take action and get proactive about monitoring their trademarked terms on Google. Even if the burden isn’t currently on them, it’s likely to be soon.