(CN) – Internet search giant Google does not violate European law by allowing companies to select trademarked keywords in its AdWords service, an adviser to the Court of Justice said.
In a non-binding opinion, Advocate General Poiares Maduro urged Europe’s top court to reject the trademark infringement claims of Louis Vuitton and other brand owners.
The plaintiffs had asked a French court to block Google from letting advertisers use trademarked terms through AdWords, claiming the practice boosts counterfeit sales by allowing any company to choose keywords linked to proprietary products.
AdWords allows advertisers to select keywords that, if entered into Google’s search engine, display targeted ads in a column next to the actual search results. Google receives a “price per click” from advertisers if users follow the AdWords links.
Maduro found that although such keyword use may establish a link between proprietary products and companies that don’t have the rights to them, this does not violate trademark because it occurs behind the scenes, and no product or service is sold to the general public.
Consumers are not at risk of confusing the origin of a product based on such a search results display, Maduro said, pointing out that many perfectly legitimate companies also use the service.
The advocate general did say that Google AdWords could be liable for infringement by a third party, though this would depend on the trademark owner’s ability to provide specific examples.
Maduro also determined that AdWords should not qualify for a special exemption from liability as an “information society” service.
Maduro cautioned the court to steer clear of regulating Internet keywords, which he described as “content-neutral.”
“[I]t is important not to allow the legitimate purpose of preventing certain trademark infringements to lead all trademark uses to be prohibited in the context of cyberspace,” Maduro concluded.
The French courts have generally sided with trademark owners in such conflicts, including against Google and eBay. Google pointed out that systems like AdWords are legal in many European Union countries, including Germany and the United Kingdom.
Google suspended use of trademarked keywords in France pending resolution of this case.
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