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Update: American Airlines sues Google over keyword ads

It claims the search company is infringing on its trademark

By Linda Rosencrance
August 17, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - American Airlines Inc. yesterday filed a lawsuit against Google Inc., claiming the search company is infringing on the airline's trademarks by using them as keyword triggers for paid advertisements by other companies.

American filed the lawsuit, in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Fort Worth Division, because it wants to stop competitors from using those trademarks to trigger their own advertising on Google.

"We are confident that our trademark policy strikes a proper balance between trademark owners' interests and consumer choice, and that our position has been validated by decisions in previous trademark cases," a Google spokesman said in an e-mail.

In the lawsuit, American claims Google, without the airline's permission, "sold to third parties the 'right' to use the trademarks and service marks of American Airlines or words, phrases, or terms confusingly similar to those marks as 'keyword' triggers that cause paid advertisements, which Google calls 'Sponsored Links,' to appear alongside the natural results."

When a user performs a search on Google's site for the words "American Airlines" to search for flights on American, the user may be redirected to the Web site of a competing airline, a Web site that sells American Airlines travel services or the services of other airlines, or Web sites that have nothing to do with air travel at all, according to the lawsuit.

This happens because those other companies pay Google to get links to their Web sites placed at the top of the list of sponsored links -- on the right hand side of the search results page -- when a user's search terms match certain keywords, such as American Airlines. The companies buy those keywords from Google.

But American alleges that Google doesn't have the right to sell its name to any other company and is asking the court to stop Google from selling its trademarks to other companies. It also wants Google to pay American any money it has made by selling its trademarks and to award unspecified monetary damages to the airline.

"American Airlines does not bring this lawsuit lightly," American said in the court documents. "Indeed, American Airlines does not question that Google's search engine provides consumers with a powerful and highly useful means to search the Internet for information. That said, Google's search engine is helping third parties to mislead consumers and misappropriate American Airlines [trademarks] by using them as keyword triggers for paid advertisements and by using them within the text or title of paid advertisements."

In an e-mailed statement, the airline said it wants Google to stop selling its trademarks


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