Brand names in Google Adwords battle

Of interest to anyone who uses Google’s Adwords – there is a battle going on in the courts over brand name use in Adwords. Flower delivery company Interflora is suing Marks and Spencer and Flowers Direct over use of its brand name, in what could be a test case on how keyword advertising is handled under UK trademark law.

It used to be the case that Google regulated use of brand names, not allowing brand names to be used as triggering keywords in Adwords campaigns, but it controversially changed its policy in May this year, potentially leaving the advertising scheme wide open to “brand hijacking”.

Many experts expected to see major brand names suffer a loss in search traffic from searches on their own brand name as a result. However, studies have shown that since then, the biggest brands have increased their spend to defend their brand, and not suffered any loss of traffic (although they have lined Google’s pockets a bit more). In fact, the only competitive bidding for brand names was found to be in the finance and travel sectors.

However in what might be the first significant case to go through UK courts, Interflora is claiming that use of its brand enables M&S “to free-ride upon the fame of the Trade Marks, thus conferring upon themselves and/or their goods or services an unfair advantage” – claiming that its brand is its most valuable asset.

Currently a Google search for “Interflora” gets sponsored results from Interflora, M&S and Flowers Direct, so it seems that the lawsuit hasn’t resulted in anyone backing away from bidding on rival brand names, but a lot of people will be watching carefully to see what decision is reached in court.

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