Google Relaxes Trademark Restrictions in Ads

  |  May 15, 2009   |  Comments

Policy shift allows advertisers to use others' trademarks under some conditions, even when the owners object to that use.

Google will begin allowing advertisers in the United States to use trademarked terms in their advertisements -- including ones they don't own -- a move designed to revive its sagging ad revenue but likely to irk brands that are already chafing at Google's fast-and-loose policy toward trademark protection.

Google compared its old policy of not allowing trademarked terms in ads to Sunday circulars that only advertise "snacks for sale" or "shoes available," in a blog post.

"The ads wouldn't be useful since you wouldn't know what products are actually being offered," Dan Friedman of Inside Adwords wrote. "For many categories of advertisers, this is the problem they have faced on Google for some time."

"Under certain criteria, you can use trademark terms in your ad text in the U.S. even if you don't own that trademark or have explicit approval from the trademark owner to use it. This change will help you to create more narrowly targeted ad text that highlights your specific inventory," he continued.

Those criteria include referring to the trademarked terms in "a descriptive or generic way," and the advertiser must either be re-selling, facilitating the sale of or offering information about the trademark holder's products or components of those products. Google says it will perform limited investigations into complaints about its clients violating those rules.

The new rules are not likely to improve Google's standing among companies who complain that the search giant impinges their trademarks by letting competitors buy the rights to their brand names.

Earlier this week, Firepond, a Texas software company, filed a class-action suit against Google claiming trademark infringement because consumers searching for "Firepond" were clicking on the sponsored links of their competitors.


Douglas Quenqua is a journalist based in Brooklyn, NY who writes about culture and technology. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired, The New York Observer, and Fortune.

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