Giving Google a decisive victory, a federal judge has ruled that the search company's AdWords program did not infringe on trademarks owned by the language instruction company Rosetta Stone.
"No reasonable trier of fact could find that Google's practice of auctioning Rosetta Stone's trademarks as keyword triggers to third party advertisers creates a likelihood of confusion as to the source or origin of Rosetta Stone's products," U.S. District court Judge Gerald Bruce Lee in Alexandria, Va. wrote this week. Lee said in April that he was awarding summary judgment to Google, but didn't issue a written opinion until this week.
Rosetta Stone sued Google last year, alleging that the company's AdWords policies enabled competitors to free ride on Rosetta Stone's trademarked name. Rosetta Stone's other allegations included claims that its trademark was being used by counterfeiters, and that its brand name was being diluted.
Lee rejected all of Rosetta Stone's arguments. In addition to ruling that ads triggered by the name didn't confuse consumers, Lee also wrote that people's awareness of Rosetta Stone's brand "has only increased since Google changed its trademark policy to permit the use of trademarked terms as keyword triggers and as words within sponsored link titles and advertisement text."
As for Rosetta Stone's argument that Google enabled counterfeiters to profit, Lee found no evidence "that Google is supplying a service to those it knows or has reason to know is engaging in trademark infringement."
Portions of Lee's ruling appear to adopt Google's key arguments about why it shouldn't be liable for trademark infringement in AdWords." In simplified terms, Google's popular search engine aggregates information and provides advertising space. This is akin to a newspaper or magazine selling advertising space," he wrote. "To attract advertisers, Google created a system for displaying advertisements that would be economically profitable for its company and paid advertisers."
Lee added: "It is in Google's own business interest, as a search engine, not to confuse its users by preventing counterfeiters from taking advantage of its service. Google's success depends on its users finding relevant responses to their inquiries."
Some of the sweeping pro-Google language could discourage other trademark owners from suing the search company, says Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman. "The overall tenor of the opinion really should make plaintiffs wary," Goldman says, adding that Lee clearly endorsed Google's AdWords policies. "The judge is saying, 'This is okay.'"