The Chicago Tribune ran a story on the front page of Wednesday’s Business section about the use of trademarks in keyword internet advertising: Trademark Battlefield. The story discussed various efforts to stop internet search engines (like those offered by Google, Yahoo and Microsoft) from selling trademarked terms as search keywords. For example, the story suggested that State Farm, an insurance company, may have purchased the name of its chief competitor, Allstate, from Google. As a result, if you google "Allstate" Allstate’s websites will come up first in the search results, but in the upper right corner of the search results page, you will see a State Farm ad.
The story also discussed comments from a Google trademark lawyer, Rose Hagan, during a standing-room-only panel at the International Trademark Association’s ("INTA") meeting on Monday, which was held in Chicago. Hagan said that Google sells advertising space, not trademarks. The story also notes that Utah has passed a law which prohibited the use of a competitor’s trademarks as advertising keywords. For more on the Utah law, check out Eric Goldman’s Technology & Marketing Law Blog (via Marty Schwimmer’s Trademark Blog). The Utah law and the various lawsuits against Google, Yahoo and Microsoft on this issue are all evidence that this is a very unsettled area of trademark law. A Yahoo attorney, Laura Hauck Covington, explained that "[w]e’re all trying to find the right, reasonable balance for the owners of trademarks, consumers and advertisers."