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Google Adwords trademark policies – what UK brand owners should expect

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It looks like Google is going to update its Adwords trademark policies again.

As a few sources reported recently, Google is trialling the removal of trademarking in the US market, starting on 15th June 2009.
 
Advertisers in the UK market can already bid on each others’ trade-names. For example, if Adidas want to bid on the term ‘nike shoes’, there’s nothing to stop them. What they can’t do, though, is use the trademark text in their actual Google advert. 

That’s about to change. In the future, advertisers could be allowed to use any ad text in their PPC (pay per click) advertising. Google believes that this will make things much clearer for the consumer – advertisers can use trademarks in print adverts, so why shouldn’t they do it online?
 
It’s a pro-competitive move. Let’s take a look at the Google Adwords blog:

Imagine opening your Sunday paper and seeing ads from a large supermarket chain that didn’t list actual products for sale; instead, they simply listed the categories of products available – offers like "Buy discount cola" and "Snacks on sale." The ads wouldn’t be useful since you wouldn’t know what products are actually being offered. For many categories of advertisers, this is the problem they have faced on Google for some time.

The thinking behind the change isn’t one of allowing major brands to bid on competitors’ trademarks. Conversely, it seems to be about letting multi-brand stores to use several trademarks in one advert. Stores like JJB Sports will finally be allowed to inform the web user which brands they stock.
 
Again, the Adwords blog seems to confirm this:

…under our old policy, a site that sells several brands of athletic shoes may not have been able to highlight the actual brands that they sell in their ad text. However, under our new policy, that advertiser can create specific ads for each of the brands that they sell. We believe that this change will help both our users and advertisers by reducing the number of overly generic ads that appear across our networks in the U.S.

What does the update mean for you?
The chances are that the new policies will reach the UK by August 2009. This would follow a normal Google roll-out pattern.
 
We can also expect paid search to get more competitive again. It will get more expensive for brand owners to protect ‘their patch’ and they will once again see advertisers moving in to make sales from brand-related search queries. This will – in the short-term – inflate PPC bid prices. If you are a defensive brand owner – use your partners, resellers and PPC affiliate partners to defend your search positions.
 
The update will not affect brand-owners that are already working with resellers of their products. Brand-owners that took the opportunity to update their trademark policies during the last update in May 2008 – the ones that chose to work with their partners and resellers – won’t need to make too many changes. Just keep an eye out for new advertisers beyond your immediate circle of friends.
 
Defending your brand – there are still options
There will still be a trademark infringement process that can be called upon. Google, is still “willing to perform a limited investigation of reasonable complaints about use of trademarks in ads.” According to the policy, advertisers may violate the new rule if they don’t actually sell or facilitate the sale of the goods or services corresponding to the trademarked term.

Whatever happens next, it’s as well to be prepared. It’s not as though UK brand owners won’t have seen this one coming.

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