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Google to Allow Trademarked Keywords After EU Ruling

Google Inc. will allow advertisers on its sites across Europe to use trademarked terms as “keywords” that link Internet searches to ads.

The policy change brings Google’s trademark practice in Europe in line with company rules in about 190 countries, including the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Ireland. The change, effective from Sept. 14, follows a ruling by the European Union’s highest court in March that Google doesn’t breach EU law by selling trademark-protected names as keywords.

“This change allows us to harmonize our policies across the world,” said Ben Novick, a spokesman for Google, in a statement today. “Users will benefit by seeing more relevant ads following a search on Google.”

The Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice, the highest court for the 27-nation EU, had ruled search engines such as Google could be liable for trademark breaches if they are aware of storing infringing terms and fail to act. LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA had accused Google of violating the luxury-goods maker’s trademark rights by selling protected words as keywords that then link users to websites selling counterfeit items when they search under the company’s brands.

Google, which is based in Mountain View, California, gets most of its revenue from advertising.

While the March ruling cleared Google of violating EU trademark rules, it left it up to national courts to analyze on a case-by-case basis whether the role played by Google as an Internet host is “of a mere technical, automatic and passive nature” in processing potentially infringing data.

Right to Complain

Google said today any trademark owner that believes a third-party ad in Europe confuses users about the origin of the good or service can also file a complaint. The ad will be removed if Google agrees, it said.

The March ruling had been the first time the EU’s top court ruled on the rights of companies such as LVMH to prevent search engines in the 27-nation region from distributing protected names as keywords.

Google stores ad content on its systems, which the court said may make the company liable for trademark breaches if national judges find it plays an “active role” in creating the promotions.

LVMH had accused Google of violating the luxury-goods maker’s trademarks by linking users who search for “Vuitton” and “LV” to Web sites selling counterfeit fashion accessories.

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