Friday, 4 May 2007

Trademark issues with PPC advertising

Two common questions that arise with PPC advertising campaigns is either 'can I bid on my competitor's name' or 'how can I stop a competitor bidding on my company name'. Trademark infringement has become a more prominent issue now that more companies are involved and aware of PPC advertising, as well as a potential legal minefield for Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and the smaller players in the online advertising market.

If a company has a name that is made up of generic terms, it can be difficult to stop competitors bidding on one of more of these terms to make their adverts appear alongside the search results. Of course, if a searcher is specifically looking for a company name, the competitor needs to avoid an issue of trying to 'pass themselves off' as the other company, which will be dependent on the way the advert is written.

If a company has a trademarked name, or brand name, then this should be easier to control. We wouldn't encourage companies to bid competitively against other trademarked business names or brands, particularly as the relevancy of their result may be dubious and also it can backfire and create a negative impression with the searcher. There is still some confusion with the law in regard to this activity, which can also vary between countries (and even states in the US), although the main PPC providers are also trying to develop their own policies against such practices.

Google will consider complaints about bids against trademark terms - you need to contact them with details and a response is not quick, although once registered they will block bids against a restricted term in the future. Yahoo! tends to be tighter about bidding on trademark terms, which will either be blocked automatically or manually by their editorial review. However, advertisers can use trademarked terms in the advert text on Yahoo!, which Google will block. Microsoft will block the use of trademark terms unless it deems the use "truthful and lawful".

The protection of a company or brand name therefore needs to be monitored and action taken if other companies are seen to be making attempts to use these for their own commercial ends. It should be part of a regular review of your company's 'reputation management' on the web and action taken where necessary as the legal loopholes begin to be tightened as more test cases emerge.

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