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AdWords Trademark Dispute: Can AdWords Sell Your Mark?

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on July 02, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Google Adwords can sell your trademarked terms to competitors. In a recent trademark infringement lawsuit filed by Rosetta Stone against Google, the U.S. Court of Appeals laid down the law with regards to this issue.

Google can sell trademarked terms to advertisers on AdWords depending on how recognizable the trademarked term is and whether Google is diluting the trademark by selling it.

Rosetta Stone, the language learning program, claimed that Google sold their marks to third-party advertisers for use as search keywords, The Chicago Tribune reports.

Google Adwords is a search-engine optimization (SEO) and search-engine marketing (SEM) tool. A person or company that wishes to advertise on the Internet can "purchase" certain words from Google. When these words are typed into the search, the advertiser's ads will appear in featured positions within the results.

For many, including Rosetta Stone, the problem arises when competitors or worse, counterfeiters, purchase the trademarked words. A search of "Rosetta Stone," for example, could lead potential customers to a competitor's website or to a Rosetta Stone copycat.

Google has a policy in place to help regulate this, but is it enough? An advertiser can purchase a trademarked term under the following circumstances:

  1. The purchaser is a reseller of that trademarked product,
  2. The purchaser makes or sells component parts for that trademarked product,
  3. The purchaser offers compatible parts or goods for use with that trademarked product, or
  4. The sponsor provides information or reviews about the trademarked product.

Does this policy really help curb copycats and competitors? Rosetta Stone didn't believe so and they raised this issue. The case isn't over. The Court of Appeals remanded the case and further discussion on this issue will ensue back at the district court.

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