(CN) – Google does not violate trademark law when it allows online advertisers to use trademarks as keywords in its AdWords service, Europe’s top court ruled Monday.
The ruling, issued by the European Union’s Court of Justice, resolves a five-year legal battle between Google and luxury goods maker LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton. The company accused Google of trademark infringement for selling advertising linked to trademarked names like Louis Vuitton.
Google’s AdWords lets advertisers reserve keywords, including trademarked names, and allows advertisers to display ads in a “sponsored links” section next to search results if a consumer types in the keyword.
Louis Vuitton said use of trademarks in AdWords could cause ads for competing or imitation products to pop up in searches for its products, confusing consumers about the origin of a product.
“Google has not infringed trademark law by allowing advertisers to purchase keywords corresponding to their competitors’ trademarks,” the Court of Justice ruled.
“Advertisers themselves, however, cannot, by using such keywords, arrange for Google to display ads which do not allow Internet users easily to establish from which undertaking the goods or services covered by the ad in question originate,” the court ruled.
Google must remove ads if trademark owners complain that their rights have been violated, the high court added.
The Luxembourg-based court did not rule on whether Google is responsible for monitoring AdWords to remove trademark violations, deferring to the national courts.
Online advertisers could violate trademark law, the court ruled, if they make it impossible or nearly impossible for consumers to differentiate between imitation and original products via Google AdWords.
The ruling is in line with a September 2009 adviser opinion, in which Advocate General Poiares Maduro said Google was not violating the law by including trademarked keywords in its AdWords service. Maduro had warned against the regulation of Internet keywords, which he said are “content-neutral.”