Psychologist Carla Ison didn't like what she saw when she conducted vanity searches on Google and Yahoo.
Both search engines apparently returned ads and other links that Ison found troubling. Google allegedly associated the California-based psychologist's name with porn sites, as well as with "nonsensical" text and "practices considered unethical or very questionable." Yahoo allegedly returned a result showing a map of Ison's office location but wrongly indicating that she is a medical doctor.
In 2010, after finding herself unable to resolve the issues with Google and Yahoo informally, she sued both companies for trademark infringement. She indicates in her complaint that she took the matter to court because "members of her profession have an ethical obligation to ensure that information about them is presented truthfully in the media."
Now, three years after the case was filed, a judge in Santa Clara, Calif. has dismissed Ison's lawsuit. Judge Kevin McKenney granted summary judgment to Google and Yahoo last week, ruling that they are entitled to prevail because Ison couldn't prove that her name was entitled to trademark protection in her name. That's because she wasn't able to show that her name had any special associations to the public -- unlike, for instance, the company names "Holiday Inn" or "Vision Center."
Santa Clara University professor Eric Goldman, who reported the decision earlier today, points out that Ison isn't the only person to sue over how her name is used to trigger paid ads. A court in Wisconsin currently is considering whether people can bring privacy lawsuits when their names are used to trigger search ads.
In that case, personal injury lawyers at the firm Habush Habush & Rottier sued lawyers at the rival firm Cannon & Dunphy, for allegedly using the names "Habush" and "Rottier" to trigger search ads. That claim is based on a Wisconsin state law allowing suits for invasion of privacy if their name is used for commercial purposes without their permission.
A trial judge ruled against Habush and Rottier in 2011. They appealed and the Wisconsin Supreme Court is currently considering the matter.
Yeah, for a while one of my clients was the now-defunct "National Pain Foundation" - you can't believe what came up when you Googled them. One of the execs told me he "wants to own the word PAIN on the web...". I told him good luck with that.