American Airlines Sues Google Over Trademarked Search Terms

American Airlines has sued Google over search terms that include words that American Airlines has trademarked. For example, if you search Google for “Aadvantage,” American Airline’s frequent flier program, Google will display a link to the program, but also show ads from competitors.

American Airlines told the Associated Press that the airline had tried to reach a settlement with Google, but wasn’t able to. Google responded:

Google spokesman Jon Murchinson said the company is “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.”

We think American Airlines needs to chill out. So what if Google serves ads that compete with your product? If it’s so bad that it can’t stand up to Google ads, maybe you should improve it.

Carrier sues Google over keyword ads [Chicago Tribune]
(Photo:Drewski2112)

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  1. DeeJayQueue says:

    fah real.

  2. not_seth_brundle says:

    I don’t know, I cut trademark owners some slack, because the law requires them to defend their mark at the risk of losing it. For example, “aspirin” used to be a trademark, but is now a generic term because people were using it that way.

  3. FreemanB says:

    Phase 1: Sue Google for listing our company alongside competitors.

    Phase 2: Sue Yellow Pages for listing our company alongside competitors.

    Phase 3: Realize that no one can find our company anymore.

    Phase 5: Profit!

  4. kelbear says:

    I think the best solution here is for Google to just delist them entirely and American Airlines enjoy the consequences.

  5. Woofer00 says:

    You should also remember that turnabout wouldn’t be fair play in this case – if AA were to buy competitors’ trademarks for ads, they’d be open to the same types of suits.

  6. MENDOZA!!!!! says:

    I’m no CFO, but wouldn’t a more prudent use of the money be to actually improve their product? Or does this legal goose-chase actually make them a better airline?

  7. Jaysyn was banned for: http://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:
  8. louisb3 says:

    Google’s philosophy is “Don’t be evil” – I can’t help but notice that airlines have no such compunctions.

  9. not_seth_brundle says:

    @Jaysyn: I do not understand how that link shows “not exactly”? Do you mean, because it’s still a registered trademark in some countries?

    Aspirin was registered worldwide for Bayer’s brand of acetylsalicylic acid, but through the widespread use to describe all brands of the compound, and Bayer’s inability to protect its trademark (mainly where its assets were confiscated during World War I), the word “aspirin” lost its trademark status in the United States and some other countries. It is now widely used in the US for all brands of the drug. However in some other countries, such as Canada, Germany, and Switzerland it is still a registered trademark of Bayer.

  10. Roundonbothends says:

    Actually, I’m with American on this one. If you are searching so specifically – for a trademarked and other non-existing word – you actually WANT what you’re looking for. Google placing ad-supported links in immediate proximity is good for them – not for the consumer, as it leads to confusion.

    Have you ever noticed that if you search for a keyword in Google and there are a couple of ad-supported links at the top and a column of ad-supported links at the right that you’ll find the sites that have the worst deals for what you’re looking for on the Internet? That’s because these merchants are looking for lazy people that are easy prey. That’s how to be a terribly inept consumer.

    Yahoo’s old “most popular” was much more honest.

  11. WebCudgel says:

    What amazes me is that I might want to search on “AAdvantage” and be looking for specific competitor products. If I can’t see that listed anywhere because they want exclusivity, then I won’t use Aadvantage.

  12. create says:

    didn’t another company try something similar not too long ago and Google won?

    I’ll have to see if i can find anything on the other lawsuit and post it… I am pretty sure there is already a precedent in Google’s favor

  13. Trai_Dep says:

    I’ll bet if you look at AA’s online ads, they use phrases that their competitors might find “objectionable”. Their marketing department should be fired if they don’t. Weasels.

    They should beef up their policies to benefit consumers, then place ads for “bill of rights”, “stranded on tarmac” or “cancelled flight”. Watch the $$ roll in. You know, like how winners do?

  14. create says:

    [news.com.com]

    not quite the same… but pretty damn close, lol

    From the Article:
    “Judge Leonie Brinkema of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia granted Google’s motion to dismiss a trademark-infringement complaint brought by Geico. The insurance company had charged Google with violating its trademarks by using the word “Geico” to trigger rival ads in sponsored search results. Geico claimed the practice diluted its trademarks and caused consumer confusion.”

  15. Ickypoopy says:

    @not_seth_brundle:
    No, he means not exactly because it was not lost due to people using it as a generic term, it was lost due to reparations for WWI.

    As part of the reparations after World War I, Bayer had its assets, including rights to its name and trademarks, confiscated in the United States, Canada, and several other countries. In the United States and Canada, Bayer’s assets and trademarks were acquired by Sterling Drug, a predecessor of Sterling Winthrop.

  16. FreemanB says:

    In past cases, US judges have ruled that this type of comparative advertising was legal use of trademarks. It is no similar to a phone book placing ads in the yellow pages. You may be specifically looking for Domino’s Pizza, but you could easily see ads for Papa Johns, Pizza Hut, or a host of others on the page with the Domino’s listing. There are still other cases working through the court system dealing with this issue though. I would imagine that the cases will continue until there is a high-level precedent, possibly even a supreme court decision.

  17. FreemanB says:

    The above should read “It is similar to a phone book placing ads…”. Since that is the reasoning behind some judges decisions, I wanted to make sure it was clear.

  18. not_seth_brundle says:

    @Ickypoopy: If that is the case, then Sterling (and now its successors) would own the Aspirin trademark. But there is no Aspirin trademark–it’s a generic term.

    At any rate, the point stands whether you like the Bayer example or want to look at another one. The point is that if you don’t enforce your trademark, you can lose it.

  19. cindel says:

    I’ve flown AA this past weekend and I do not like their jets “operated by American Eagle”.. My god, someone could have warned me about it.

  20. JMH says:

    @create hit this pretty well on the head – I couldn’t come up with GEICO as the other party but once it was mentioned I can definitely hear the name of the case in the voice of my Trademark Law professor. It’s very close to the exact same thing, the only thing I can figure is that AA thinks a different court will come up with a different result. The 5th Circuit hasn’t heard anything like this, to my knowledge, and the ruling by a court in the 4th Circuit isn’t binding here, though it could at least be persuasive.

    (Sorry about the lesson in the workings of the federal courts – it just happened!)

  21. dfellars says:

    I work for a Search Engine (not Google) and sell the same sort of sponsored listings. The general policy in these matters (stated in our Terms and Conditions) is that “‘Search Engine X’ is a proveder of advertising space and does not enter into nor settle copyright disputes” (or words to that effect.)

    Our general policy is that anyone can ‘bid’ on any keyword, however we will not allow an advertiser to use another advertiser’s brand name without permission. When that happens, we will inform the offending party of the policy and give them a chance to modify their listing. If they do not, we will remove it from distribution.

    Ultimtately, this comes down to a matter of price. Additional advertisers on an AA.com brand term will generally force the price up for AA.com beyond Google’s minimum rate. However, it should also be noted that the non-brand owners often have to pay 3x – 6x what the brand owner does to display on the front page.

  22. Jon Parker says:

    @not_seth_brundle: That’s absolutely correct. Cellophane and nylon are other tradmarks that have been lost, and Kleenex has been working on holding onto theirs for years.

  23. rhombopteryx says:

    @not_seth_brundle:

    “The point is that if you don’t enforce your trademark, you can lose it.” True enough. And, similarly, if you DO enforce your treademark, you can still lose it – a la every generic example you can point to. Suing has almost no effect whatsoever on the issue of whether a trademark is generic. Contrary to the notion regurgitated by the press, (and conveniently perpetuated by some lawyers) there is no “trademark owners are required by law to sue” law. In some cases, sure, a lawsuit might stop behavior that damages the trademark, but in other cases – not so much.

  24. KwaxieFluxmyer says:

    I wish American would spend more time and effort on improving customer service and on time performance.

    Really, with the way they are flying these days (I had a connecting flight recently through Dallas, missed the connection, spent the night sleeping in the airport and was treated extremely rudely by all American employees!), they will be out of business soon.

  25. Uriel says:

    yeah…everyone wants a piece of Google nowadays…

  26. CapitalC says:

    Where do I sign up to sue because when someone searches for my name they find other people? I want me and ONLY me to be found when I Google myself!

  27. Melov says:

    Google’s Lawyers > Airline Lawyers…


    sorry you lose!