Trademark case turns in Google’s favour

A leading lawyer has warned major travel companies that a legal opinion delivered to Europe’s highest court has tipped the balance in favour of Google in the battle over online brand hijacking.

Ian Craig of London law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse described the ruling as “better for Google than for trademark owners”.

The advocate general of the European Court of Justice delivered this week the opinion that: “Google has not committed a trademark infringement by allowing advertisers to select, in AdWords, keywords corresponding to trademarks.”

The opinion was forwarded to judges of the European Court of Justice, who will make the final decision. The judges have no obligation to follow the advocate general’s advice.

Craig said the ruling was “a straw in the wind, but it’s the best we have for now.” However, he pointed out there have been several recent cases where the European Court of Justice did not follow such an opinion.

The Court’s finding will apply across European Union member states, including the UK and Ireland, where Google relaxed restrictions on the use of brand names in advertising content by competitors in May last year. The restrictions remain in force in the rest of Europe.

The case in the European court follows Google’s appeal against a decision in France involving online travel agent BDV – one of the largest independent online retailers in the country.

Digital consultancy Nucelus released a study this week which found 80% of the surveyed travel businesses suffered brand hijacking, and the incidence of hijacking had more than doubled in the past year.

A decision is not expected before the end of the year.

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