Information Management

Google Gets Hand In Trademark Dispute

Previously critical of the search engine, the Electronic Frontier Foundation supports Google's argument that sponsored links do not constitute infringing uses of trademarks.
A public interest group that has been critical of Google in the past is backing the search engine in its legal battles against Rescuecom.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed an amicus brief Thursday asking a judge to uphold a ruling that anyone can buy Google's "sponsored links." Rescuecom sued Google back in September 2004, claiming that selling "sponsored links" for the term Rescuecom infringed on its trademark. A judge dismissed the suit last year, but Rescuecom appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit. A judge is considering ruling whether trademark laws cover keyword searches using trademarks.

Rescuecom, a company providing computer service technicians, could not be reached immediately for comment.

EFF argues that sponsored links do not constitute infringing uses of trademarks, but rather promote a "vibrant public sphere by helping online speakers reach a broader audience."

"The Internet has brought together speakers of many kinds -- some competing with trademark owners, others criticizing them, still others simply referring to them while discussing other subjects or products," EFF Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry said in a prepared statement. "Services like Google's 'sponsored links' help people with something to say reach those who might be interested in hearing it."

Jason Schultz, another EFF staff attorney said that trademarks are "essential navigation tools and vehicles of expression."

"Quashing this speech goes against both the law and the public interest," he said.

In its filing, the EFF likened sponsored links to retail shelves and argued that Procter & Gamble would not have legal justification to go after a grocery store owner that had placed generic cough syrup next to a brand-named product, Nyquil.

The EFF has not always sided with Google. In February 2006, the group said privacy issues made it highly critical of Google's Desktop Search Tool, which can store files from a PC on the company's server.