Thursday, February 10, 2011

AdWords Trademark UK policy

We were recently contacted by a client with regards to bidding on a competitor's brand name.
Sharing the information supplied here, as may be of use to you, our readers.

In May 2008, Google stated that keywords that were disabled as a result of a trademark complaint and investigation will no longer be restricted in the UK and Ireland. Google stated that they will no longer review a term corresponding to the trademarked term as a keyword trigger. However, they stated that they will continue to perform a limited courtesy investigation of complaints regarding ad text purported to be in violation of a trademark.

The official post from Google is here: see regions where Google investigate ad text only – UK is on the list.

What this means:

The New policy launched in 2008 suggests that competitors can now ‘hijack’ your brand term keywords and collect a proportion of your brand traffic. Advertisers can also bid on their own brand term and because they will have a higher “quality score” (their page is more related to term) then it is likely that the advertiser will generally be at the top (paid) spot. (Feel free to talk to Rocktime more about Quality scoring – it basically equates to making your page relevant to a key term).

There is some dispute that even though Google permit this activity (as do Yahoo & MSN Adcentre) you may still be breaking the trademark law and this will lay with the person purchasing the adword, not the person selling it (i.e. Google).

Months after the update, Hitwise ran a report on the impact on search traffic and found that the “New Policy” increased brand bidding on brand terms by 22% amongst the UKs top brands but this was essentially just to defend the threat. They found that brand hijacking was limited.

Google will allow brands to bid on a competitors name as long as they do not mention the key term / brand term in their advert, (which would be misleading for the customer).

We noted a few affiliate comparison sites using brand names and using the term in their ads (this may or may not be with agreement with the brand). Should it not be in agreement with the brand then the brand seeing their trademark name displayed in an advert can put in a complaint about using the trademarked term, however they can’t complain about bidding on the keyword term (As mentioned above Google permit this).

Should you feel that you have grounds for complaint then you may contact Google here: Once Google has put on notice of the infringing listing, then they (Google) will be legally obligated to remove this listing (in a timely manner).

As “brand key phrase” bidding is allowed, the brand using the term may invite the other to bid on their “own key-phrase”. In theory the hijacked brand could contact a lawyer and progress this, however before this stage you could remove the keyword as an out of court “Gentleman’s agreement”.


In summary, as long as you don’t mention a trademark name in an adwords advert, then you can bid on the term. We would advice that you fairly use the trademark (if the term is trademarked!) with your search marketing and imagine impact it would have on your business if your competitor placed a bid on your trademark !! The Flashlight SEM team at Rocktime help a number of brands with management of their Paid Search Accounts across a number of search engines. Should you require assistance in Pay Per Click Management feel free to get in touch.

Author: Sarah Griffiths


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