EU court gives partial backing to Google in Louis Vuitton dispute
Luxembourg - Google's sale of trademark keywords to internet advertisers does not infringe European Union rules, the bloc's highest court said Tuesday.
However, national courts may object to the use made of such keywords by the search engine's AdWords advertising service, the court's advocate general said in a non-binding opinion.
The case pits Google against French luxury maker Louis Vuitton, which objects to the fact that some AdWords advertisements point to the sale of counterfeit products.
When internet surfers use Google to search for keywords, the world's most popular search engine provides a list of relevant links, as well as adverts on the right-hand side of the screen.
Google makes money by selling such keywords to advertisers.
Louis Vuitton has objected to such a practice in a French court, claiming that it violates its trademark.
In the opinion of Advocate General Poiares Maduro, Google "has not committed a trademark infringement by allowing advertisers to select, in AdWords, keywords corresponding to trademarks."
This is because when selecting keywords, no product or service is being sold to the public. And in any case, consumers are aware of the fact that their searches will not simply yield a link to the owner's website.
Accordingly, internet users' access to information concerning the trademark should not be limited by the trademark owner, "even if it involves a trademark which has a reputation," the advocate general said.
But while the search engine is "a neutral information vehicle" applying "objective criteria" in order to generate the most relevant sites to the keywords entered, that is not the case with AdWords, "where Google has a direct pecuniary interest in internet users clicking on the ads' link."
Consequently, national courts can decide whether content featured in AdWords does indeed violate a country's trademark rules. (dpa)