Judge In AdWords Case: 'Google Sells Ad Space, Not Keywords'

google/gavel

A federal judge in California has dismissed portions of a lawsuit by California entrepreneur Daniel Jurin against Google over the company's AdWords program. But the decision isn't a complete victory for Google because it keeps alive a key part of the lawsuit.

Jurin, who sells StyroTrim building material, brought suit last year for trademark infringement, false advertising, interference with contractual relations, and other counts. The allegations all stemmed from Google's AdWords program, which allows trademarked terms to trigger pay-per-click ads.

In a ruling issued this week, U.S. District Court Judge Morrison England in the eastern district of California dismissed a host of Jurin's claims, including allegations that Google confused consumers about who produced StyroTrim by returning links to a variety of companies in response to a search on the term. "Even if one accepts as true the allegation that a 'Sponsored link' might confuse a consumer, it is hardly likely that with several different sponsored links appearing on a page that a consumer might believe each one is the true 'producer' or 'origin' of the Styrotrim product," he wrote.

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The decision also has some broad language stating that Google sells ad space, not keywords. Google "does not provide the content of the 'Sponsored Link' advertisements," England wrote. "It provides a space and a service and thereafter charges for its service."

England also ordered Jurin to pay Google $6,000 in attorneys' fees for having filed a virtually identical case last June and then withdrawing it in July. "Plaintiff may not voluntarily dismiss his original suit only to further harass defendant with renewed allegations of the same claims," he wrote.

England has not yet dismissed the trademark infringement claims, but those, too, seem likely to fail, says Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman. "The writing is on the wall for this lawsuit," Goldman says in a blog post about the case.

Google is currently facing 10 trademark infringement cases stemming from AdWords. No court has yet definitively ruled on whether using a brand name to trigger a search ads infringes trademark. The one case to go to trial, a lawsuit by insurance company Geico against Google, resulted in a victory for Google in 2004. In that case, a judge in Alexandria, Va. ruled that Geico had not proven that consumers were confused when they typed "Geico" into a search box and were served with ads for other insurance companies.

 

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