Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Lizard Went To Court

From USA Today Geico claims Geoogle ad policy violates trademark law.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A federal judge heard arguments Monday in a trademark dispute that could threaten millions in advertising revenue for search engine Google.

Attorneys for auto insurance giant Geico told U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema that Google should not be allowed to sell ads to rival insurance companies that are triggered whenever Geico's name is typed into the Google search box.

Geico claims that Google's AdWords program, which displays the rival ads under a "Sponsored Links" heading next to a user's search results, causes confusion for consumers and illegally exploits Geico's investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in its brand.

When a consumer enters 'Geico' ... and goes to the sponsored link believing there's a connection, that is where the confusion arises," said Geico attorney Charles Ossola.

What if the consumer typed in Geico and was taken directly to where Geico wanted them to go? No more typing the messy http:/www./com/2004/html stuff, but straight navigation or direct connection.

What if the word Geico was now machine readable identfier and could be accessed from every internet enabled device?

But Google attorney Michael Page said the ad policy is no different than a supermarket giving out coupons for one product in the checkout line when a customer buys the same product from a different company.

I don't know when that has ever happened to me.

Geico filed the lawsuit against Mountain View, Calif.-based Google in May, seeking $8.65 million in lost profits and a court order preventing Google from using its name in the advertising program.

That's $8.65 million dollars for one trademarked word in one search engine.

Under the program, for example, a competing insurance company could bid to have its ad appear every time Google users search for the word "Geico." When a user clicks on an ad, the advertiser pays Google a predetermined fee.

There is a fine line between search and navigation. Search is looking for insurance companies. Navigation is looking for Geico's homepage. Search engine versus a navigation engine.

Google is facing similar lawsuits from other companies, including American Blind and Wallpaper Factory Inc., and AXA, the world's No. 3 insurer. Last year, Google asked a court to rule on whether its pay-for-placement ad policy is legal.

I betcha the Geico case has the floodgate doors bursting.

John McCutcheon, Geico's assistant vice president of marketing, testified Monday that most consumers visit just one Web site when shopping for auto insurance. If a consumer trying to find Geico is unknowingly steered to a competitor's site, "We've lost one opportunity."

Geico has spent millions of building that brand, at least share in the revenues you generate from it Google.

Geico's lawsuit had also named Web site company Overture Services, a Yahoo! subsidiary, but the two companies reached an undisclosed settlement in November, after Brinkema denied a motion to dismiss the trademark claims.

Now why did Overture settle? Maybe they realize that generating revenues off of someone elses reputation is just wrong.

Not to worry though, soon a registry will come along that will allow a direct connection that bypasses search engines altogether.

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