This is so ridiculous!

PARIS — A legal adviser to the European Union’s top court backed Google in a trademark case on Tuesday, saying the company should be allowed to sell brand names like Louis Vuitton or Coca-Cola as advertising keywords.

The legal opinion recommends that the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg clear Google of trademark infringement in several lawsuits in France that were brought by LVMH Mot Hennessy Louis Vuitton and other brand owners.

Luxury goods companies like LVMH have been battling search engines and Internet auction sites in a series of lawsuits, arguing that the liberal use of brand names online undermines their value and facilitates the sale of counterfeit goods.

The adviser, Lus Miguel Poiares Pessoa Maduro, known as an advocate general, said that on the Internet, brand owners “do not have an absolute right of control over the use of their trademarks.”

“It is important not to allow the legitimate purpose of preventing certain trademark infringements to lead all trademark uses to be prohibited in the context of cyberspace,” he wrote.

Google generates the vast majority of its revenue from the sale of advertising keywords. It displays paid ads connected to these terms as “sponsored links” alongside standard, unpaid search results.

Online retailers, product review sites and other online services sometimes buy brand names as keywords to attract Web users to their sites.

“We believe that selecting a keyword to trigger the display of an ad does not amount to trademark infringement, and that consumers benefit from seeing more relevant information rather than less,” Harjinder Obhi, a Google lawyer, said in a statement. “We also believe that consumers are smart and are not confused when they see a variety of ads displayed in response to their search queries.”

The cases were referred to the European tribunal by French courts that were seeking clarity on how to apply European law to search-engine practices. Pending a ruling, expected in the coming months, Google has halted the sale of brand names as keywords at the trademark owners’ request in France and several other European countries. In the United States and Britain, by contrast, Google faces no such restrictions.

While largely siding with Google on Tuesday, the advocate general recommended that the company be held accountable under individual European countries’ laws if ads displayed by search engines, rather than the search terms themselves, contained trademark infringements.

The advocate general’s opinion is nonbinding. While the European court often goes along with such findings, it has ignored them in cases involving trademarks, said Simon Chapman, at the law firm of Lewis Silkin in London.
- NYTimes