By Ursula Hogben and Andre Weyher

Everyone knows and uses Google. As the most popular search engine on the Internet today, Google has developed an advertising platform called  “AdWords” for businesses wishing to advertise online.

How does AdWords work?

Basically, you can bid on certain keywords called AdWords on Google. If a customer searches for these keywords, your business’s website will appear as a sponsored search result. This means that each time a customer clicks on the sponsored search result leading them to your website, you are required to pay Google a certain price. This price is determined by how much the AdWords are worth, which is calculated through a bidding system. This concept has taken business owners by storm in a race to compete over the most useful AdWords that will lead Google users to their websites. Of course, in this situation, there is great confusion in relation to which AdWords people can bid on, and whether or not competitors can bid on each other’s business names.

As most business owners do not realise, this is in fact a legal issue, as the business names of certain businesses constitute intellectual property, over which business owners have certain proprietary rights. This means that if you bid on a competitor’s business name on AdWords, you may breach intellectual property law and face a series of consequences. This, however, depends on the jurisdiction that you are in, and a range of other factors. To get a thorough understanding of the law in this area, you should speak with an online lawyer who can provide you with up-to-date legal advice that specifically relates to your business and your intellectual property rights.

What if my business name is trademarked?

In a media release in 2013, Google announced that, in Australia, competitors are not prevented from bidding on third party trademarks. While Google will still look into complaints over intellectual property infringement, it appears to be the case that the rules regarding bidding on a business’s registered brand name has been considerably loosened. These changes have brought together a more global trademarking policy for Google in relation to the global AdWords campaign. However, what is important to remember is that, even though a competitor can bid on a trademarked term, this term cannot be used in the AdWords advertisement.

For example, you may operate a business called “Blue Flowers”, and this brand name may be a registered trademark. A competitor may bid on your business name so when a customer searches “Blue Flowers” on Google, your competitor’s business may appear as the first sponsored link. However, in the link (the AdWords advertisement), the competitor cannot use the word “Blue Flowers” again. So even if a competitor bids on your business name on AdWords, they will still be unable to use your trademarked name in their advertisement, which may assist in customers doing further searches to find your website.

So what should I do?

To find out what you can do and the best options for you in protecting your business name online, you should seek advice from an online lawyer. Online lawyers have extensive experience in dealing with matters that involve newly developing areas of law, such as the use of trademarks on Google’s AdWords.

In the meantime, however, you could consider the costs of bidding on your own business name, and any trademarked terms in your business name to prevent being undermined by competitors. The cost of one click on an ad triggered by your own business name, will in many cases be much cheaper for you than for your competitors due to the relevance of your landing page. So it’s easy to outrank your competitors, even if they aggressively bid in your name.

Conclusion

While Google AdWords provides an innovative method by which business owners have the opportunity to market their businesses like never before, it is a good idea to know your rights when participating in this campaign, and how you can best protect them.

Ursula Hogben
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