December 11th, 2008 § 6 Comments
Patrick over at Blogstorm has posted about Interflora suing M&S over brand bidding. Apparently Marks & Spencer were bidding on the keyword ‘interflora’ and the flower company took exception. Now, according to Google it’s OK to bid on someone else’s brand, but UK courts could take a different view – after all, there are all sorts of laws safeguarding people’s trademarks and the implications of keyword advertising are still being explored.
I really wish I’d taken a screenshot because it looks like they’ve stopped, but a few days ago Purenet were bidding on the keyword ’9xb’ which, as you know if you’ve read my about page, is the company I work for. Now, to get them to stop presumably we’d have to jump through lots of legal hoops to prove 9xb was a trademark and Purenet were damaging us by bidding on it. Personally I’d rather just create our own advert saying “Accept No Imitations, There Is Only One 9xb”…but that’s just me.
People bid on people’s brand names all the time and it’s only occasional that it goes to court. It will be interesting to see what happens in the M&S case, but I think there’s a wider issue to explore – an issue to do with language and the internet in general.
Firstly, information is so widely (and easily) available that your trademark isn’t what protects you – it’s your reputation. If you search for Interflora and all you see is a load of news stories about them suing someone, it won’t matter how much they’ve kept their brand name to themselves. In an online environment you will never have full control over your brand name so you should concentrate on making your company image as positive as possible so other people mention you in a positive light.
Secondly, and reinforcing the fact that your brand name is never under your control, language evolves. Remember when ‘hoover’ referred to a brand and not just an appliance? (If you do you’re older than me!) Several brand names have fallen into common usage just because of their popularity. Google in fact is one of them – I’ve lost count of the American films I’ve seen where a character “googled” something (question – is this product placement for the digital age?).
Google’s stance is that imitation is the best form of flattery. If you google something, you’re finding it on Google and that can only be a good thing. A rival company bidding on your key term may not be a perfect parallel but I see similarities – your brand name is being used in a way that’s outside your control. Do you take drastic action and sue/launch a brand awareness campaign, or do you do a Google and let your company image evolve naturally?
My opinion? If someone’s bidding on your brand name, bid higher than them. If someone’s talking about you, talk back. You can’t hide behind a trademark all the time.