Utah Search Bill Stalled, Sponsor Hopes for Compromise

  |  March 13, 2009   |  Comments

The bill's Senate sponsor said the bill will be discussed in coming months before the legislature reconvenes for its 2010 session in January.

A highly controversial Utah trademark related bill with implications for search marketers and firms like Google and Yahoo is stalled. After narrowly passing in the State House last week, the bill never made it to the Senate floor during this final week of the legislature's general session. The bill's Senate sponsor said the legislation deserves more discussion, but suggested Google and other corporate opponents will not be willing to compromise.

H.B. 450 barely passed in the House with at 38-36 vote. After introduction in the Senate, the bill was removed from a long list of bills slated to be voted on by Thursday, the final day of the legislature's 45-day general session.

"This proposal needs to have some more dialogue," the bill's Senate sponsor, Senator Curtis Bramble, told ClickZ News in an interview. "The bottom line is as the Senate sponsor of the bill, I pulled the bill from further consideration...with the expectation that...both sides of the issue will sit down and see if we can't come to some solution."

Bramble, like other proponents of the bill, aims to establish some sort of legal protection for companies whose trademarked names are used to target competitors' search ads to Utah residents. Among the most prominent corporate supporters of the legislation and its previous iterations is Utah-based 1-800 Contacts. Before the bill hit the House floor, several companies based in Utah and elsewhere submitted letters supporting it; that letter effort was driven by the contact lens seller.

The bill would alter a law prohibiting advertisers from using the trademarked keyword terms of their competitors to target search ads to Utah users. AOL, eBay, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo are among its detractors, and have engaged in lobbying efforts to stifle the legislation. Those firms and others called the bill "confusing" in a letter sent to Utah House Speaker Rep. David Clark, a co-sponsor of the earlier version of the legislation, the Trademark Protection Act, signed in 2007.

According to Bramble, the bill will be subject to further discussion in coming months before the Utah State Legislature reconvenes for its 2010 General Session in January. Such discussion among interested parties could take place formerly in association with a committee during the interim period, or in a less official manner, said Bramble.

"We're eager to participate in the study session that Senator Bramble is organizing, and look forward to continuing our discussions with the legislature on this issue," said Adam Kovacevich, Google's senior manager, global communications and public affairs.

Although he stressed the bill deserves more discussion, Bramble indicated he is skeptical that opponents of the legislation will be willing to compromise. "I don't see Google willing to compromise at all until they are ready to take it to court, or until there's a state that says enough is enough...I would be hopeful that there could be some common ground," he said.

The Trademark Protection Act was altered after corporate opponents threatened to sue the state. Language calling for punitive damages and civil action of violators was cut to avoid a legal battle.

When asked by ClickZ to name specific points of contention between supporters and opponents of the current bill, Bramble responded, "Convincing the Googles of the world that they can't cavalierly profit from the use of someone else's trademark."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.

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