Crash Test: Helmet Maker Sues Google

by , Jun 11, 2009, 6:01 PM
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helmutA seller of motorcycle helmets has sued Google for trademark infringement, marking the fourth time in five weeks that the search giant has been hit with an AdWords-related lawsuit.

  In this latest action, Soaring Helmet -- a Tukwila, Wash.-based company that offers "Vega" helmets -- alleges that a rival, Leatherup.com, uses the name Vega to trigger Google pay-per-click ads. Soaring Helmet also alleges that Leatherup.com has used Vega in the body of its ads.

The lawsuit, which named both Google and Leatherup.com as defendants, was filed this week in federal district court in Seattle. Soaring Helmet argues in its court papers that the use of its name as a keyword is likely to confuse people who are searching for its helmets. The company also says that one ad, which included the pitch "50% off Vega Helmets" in the copy, cost it revenue. "At least one retailer refused to do business with Soaring Helmet due to the fact that the Leatherup.com advertisement falsely stated that Leatherup.com sells Soaring Helmet's products at a deep discount," the lawsuit alleges.

Neither Leatherup.com, Soaring Helmet's law firm or Google responded to inquiries by Online Media Daily about the case.

Google has allowed marketers to arrange for trademarks to trigger ads for around five years, but until recently, had only faced a handful of lawsuits about the practice.

In the last several weeks, however, the search giant has been hit with three other trademark infringement lawsuits -- a trend that led cyberlawyer Eric Goldman to declare: "It's clearly open season on trademark infringement lawsuits against Google."

Software development company Firepond kicked off the recent wave of litigation last month by filing a potential class-action lawsuit against Google in federal district court in Texas. The same lawyers filed another potential class-action suit a few days later on behalf of real estate investment guru John Beck. Several weeks after that, the Connecticut law firm Stratton Faxon brought a similar lawsuit against the company.

It's possible that the recent wave of legal activity was sparked by an April ruling against Google in an action brought by computer repair shop Rescuecom. In that case, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that using a trademark to trigger an ad is the type of "use in commerce" that can potentially infringe on the mark. That decision doesn't mean that Google will lose the lawsuit; the company is still entitled to a trial on whether using the Rescuecom name to trigger ads caused consumer confusion. But the decision makes it easier for other trademark holders to get their day in court.

Still, the only case that actually went to trial against Google resulted in a win for the search company on the key point. In that lawsuit, brought by insurance company Geico, U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema in Virginia ruled that Geico hadn't proven that people were confused when its name triggered ads for rivals.

 

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