Posted January 11, 2008 1:13 pm by with 13 comments

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1-800-Contacts is suing again. They filed suit against this past Tuesday, Jan. 8th. Competitor bid on the keyword “1800Contacts” so when someone types it into the search engine, a LensWorld ad would show. Nothing new here (this is a routine practice in many industries, with both sides participating).

1-800 Contacts lost a case against another rival on the same issue. This set a precedent and following rulings were that keyword advertising isn’t considered a trademark violation. 1-800-Contacts is based in Utah and that’s where the irony starts. 1-800-Contacts was part of the opposition this past April to a controversial law to ban bidding on competitor’s keywords. Even though they were guilty of the same. The law was dropped the day it was to go into affect after Utah lawmakers had some discussions with search engines. In the meantime it was an embarrassment, as is this new development.

A case that helped set precedence was that of Geico suing Google for having letting their competitor bid on their brand name.

Just yesterday someone I know asked me for advice about his keyword woes. After spending $20k a month on AdWords his account was banned. Why? Copyright infringement – he was bidding on a brand name as an affiliate. He asked for an exception and not only was his request unanswered, his account was banned for good. No recourse and no one would who had any power to change that would so much as speak to him. So in some cases Google can come down hard on this issue, probably because of lawsuits. But it seems like this is selectively applied. What I mean is, did the company enforce this policy through Google, or did Google decide to enforce it?

I like to see freedom in advertising – customers aren’t confused when they type in 1-800-Contacts and they see another company’s name in the mix of ads. I’m not sure why 1-800-Contacts trying again, given their slim chances and double standards. Either way, I hope to see these issues stay out of court.

  • Who is in charge over there? Who in the world gave this the green light? I have no problem with suing, but for crying out loud at least come up with a fresh and new angle to try.

  • Different judge different angle I guess

  • If someone types in 1800contacts, chances are they are looking for 1800contacts, not LensWorld. Have their been any studies on this? My experience has been that bidding on competitors keywords has not yielded a good ROI

  • It’s definitely not something which should be taken to court but, given the fact that G is most likely no thrilled about lawsuits, it never hurts to be careful.

    Alan Johnson

  • What’s the point? A broad match for “contacts” or maybe even a phrase match would yield the same, and who’s to say that’s not what’s happening anyhow. Heck, a broad match for “eye”, “glass”, probably even “touch” could cause an impression for a search using their brand the way expanded broad match operates. Sounds like they are going to make some lawyers some jack and then still pull their hair out over their branded terms showing other advertisers and they won’t have a single angle of recourse.

    People need to know what they are talking about before they bring the law into technology issues. It just makes the plaintiff, the court and the judges look ignorant time and time again.

  • I guess that nowadays we’ve reached a point where people just sue before even thinking and don’t care about the time/resources they waste.

    Alan Johnson

  • Lensworld did it just to get some traffics? But as far as I know people will probably just ignore it if it’s on the first result but has nothing to do with what they are searching for

  • It seems people and corporations will sue for anything these days. I guess if you have the money to throw around then go for it… But wouldn’t it be cheaper to out bid your competition than to take them to court and lose?

  • It seems like a lot of wasted time, energy and money to me. But that’s our society today I guess.

  • Well, now I wouldn’t say they are wrong to sue on principle. In their eyes they are protecting trademark brand names. It can be confusing to some why Google would allow you to enforce your trademark with usage of brand terms in the ad copy, but not for bidding on them.

    If they understood the mechanics more, they would realize why it’s not the same, is the point I was making. Bidding on a trademark term is like buying a billboard beside your competitor’s store or buying an ad in a print publication beside a story that will be run about them. And again, you don’t only show for a term when you bid on it exactly, you have different match types that will get you there as well.

    I think they just don’t understand it, it’s new to them. But I worry that the judges and courts are in the same boat, and could pass judgement incorrectly and the end result STILL be that competitors show for their brand term. Lawsuits begin again, wash, rinse, repeat.

  • Ed McCready

    I don’t understand why more advertisers aren’t taking the same action 1-800 CONTACTS is taking. MSN and Yahoo both disallow direct competitors from advertising on a company’s trademarked name. The only exceptions are for resellers or informational sites ( I don’t have much experience advertising abroad but I believe Google even has a policy similar to Yahoo in most countries except the U.S.

    If Yahoo, MSN, and Google (just not in the U.S.) all believe this type of advertising is questionable, is everyone commenting here just blindly following Google’s current domestic trademark policy? The question isn’t one of understanding how Google currently works or understanding search advertising. The question is what’s fair, legal, and what SHOULD be allowed. This is definitely an area of the law that needs to be settled and I’m glad someone is questioning this type of advertising.

  • Seems kind of a sleezy thing to do my 1800contacts… shouldn’t it be the search engines right to decide who is put on their search results?

    James’s last blog post..Best search engine keyword position tracking tool

  • I think reflex sueing is getting pretty common in the big corporations