The software company Cybersitter has scored a preliminary victory in a lawsuit against Google for allegedly infringing trademark on AdWords.
In a ruling issued this week, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Lew in the Central District of California rejected Google's bid to transfer the case to its home court, the Northern District of California.
Cybersitter, which sells software that blocks adult content, alleges in its lawsuit that a rival content-blocking company, Net Nanny, paid to have its ads shown to Web users who search for "Cybersitter" on Google.
Cybersitter was an AdWords advertiser, which meant that the company agreed to Google's terms of service -- including a requirement to litigate all ad-related disputes in court in Santa Clara County, California.
Google argued that those terms required Cybersitter's case should be transferred from the Los Angeles area to northern California, but Lew ruled that the gist of Cybersitter's complaints against Google weren't encompassed by the company's AdWords contract.
Other judges have ruled in Google's favor on this issue, effectively forcing companies in faraway locales to litigate their cases in the San Francisco area. For example, in 2010 a federal judge in Corpus Christi, Texas transferred a trademark infringement lawsuit by an AdWords marketer to Google's hometown.
In that case, U.S. District Court Judge Janis Graham Jack ruled that the marketer, Flowbee -- which manufactures home haircutting systems -- must litigate any matters against Google in California because the AdWords contract provided that any claims related to Google's ad programs would be tried in that state.
Lew also denied Google's motion to dismiss several claims before trial, including allegations that the company violated California's false advertising and unfair competition laws.
Google had argued that it's immune from those claims under the Communications Decency Act, which says that Web companies aren't responsible if third parties violate state laws. But Lew ruled that more evidence was needed to determine whether Google helped develop the allegedly false ads, in which case the company could lose its immunity.
News of the decision was first reported Friday by Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman. He says he expects that Google will eventually prevail, but that the ruling signals that the company "may have an uphill battle with this judge."