Google appeals to European Court of Justice over Louis Vuitton trademark ruling

LUXEMBOURG - The European Court of Justice (ECJ) will today hear Google's appeal against an earlier French court judgement that it infringed Louis Vuitton's trademark by selling keyword advertising to counterfeiters.

The appeal follows a ruling by the Paris Tribunal of First Instance in 2005, which found against Google for allowing traders to use the Louis Vuitton name to advertise counterfeit goods alongside companies selling genuine branded goods.

Google was ordered to pay Louis Vuitton €300,000 (£278,000) in damages.

Google, which argues it did not infringe trademark rules, said today it has been sued by a number of a different claimants for trademark infringement, including Louis Vuitton, and travel agency Viaticum, dating back to 2003.

Subsequently, Google took its appeal up to the highest echelons of the French legal system, before the case was referred to the European Union's legal system.

The ECJ will today hold a hearing in which all sides will represent their cases.

David Wood, the legal counsel for ICOMP (Initiative for a Competitive Online Marketplace), explained that the case is essentially about whether Louis Vuitton can sue Google (and similar online advertising companies) for trademark infringement. 

He said: "Conversely, it is about whether Google can continue its policy of allowing advertisers who are not the owners of trademarks to buy up those trademarks under the AdWords programme."

"Google's defence is that it isn't itself using the trademarks -- although it is remunerated by the advertisers -- and there is no sufficient link between the search ad and the products bearing the trademark for there to be an infringement.

"As Google is currently behaving as if the law is on its side, the interesting question is what will happen if Google loses. In that case, there will be less confusion for consumers, brands will better hold their value and AdWords advertising rates are likely to fall."

A Google spokesman said: "We are pleased that the [ECJ] has arranged to hear important issues about Google's AdWords service much sooner than some observers expected.

"AdWords helps users find the information they are looking for and provides our advertisers with an efficient way to reach their audiences.

"Google believes that it has not infringed the claimants' trademark rights and we look forward to the outcome of the cases."

Following today's hearings, the European Advocate General of the ECJ will then analyse the testimonies and issue his independent opinion, while the ECJ judges will issue their verdict at a later date.

Wood added: "If Louis Vuitton wins, it will be able to exercise greater choice as to how it chooses to spread its advertising spend. 

"In particular, it will not be forced to enter into price wars to keep its trade marks out of the hands of others."

The legal action in 2005 resulted in Google being barred from using Louis Vuitton's trademarks in its advertising on all websites accessible in France.

in June 2006, the internet company took the case to the French Court of Appeal in Paris, which upheld the original judgement and increased damages awarded to Louis Vuitton from €200,000 to €300,000 (and an extra €30,000 in costs).

In a statement, Google said at the time: "We have a trademark policy, which prevents bids on other people's registered trademarks, and we do not allow people to advertise with AdWords for counterfeit products."

Google then took its case to the Cour de Cassation, the court of last resort in France, which then referred it to the ECJ.