• Google Loses French Case, Faces Another
  • April 13, 2005
  • Law Firm: Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • Google's French subsidiary has lost its appeal of an October 2003 court decision ordering it not to display ads triggered by a French travel agent's trademarks alongside search results.

    The Court of Appeals in Versailles, France, ruled March 10, 2005, that a lower court decision in favor of travel companies Luteciel SARL and Viaticum SA should stand. That court ordered Google France SARL to pay about $100,000 for misuse of two phrases trademarked by the companies.

    Google's AdWords service allows advertisers to choose the search terms that will trigger the display of their messages next to search results, including the names or brands of their competitors. Luteciel and Viaticum objected to competitors paying Google for ad placement for the trademarks "bourse des vols" and "bourse des voyages" ("flight exchange" and "trip exchange").

    Luteciel and Viaticum are just two of several French companies to sue Google over this practice (other similar cases are pending in the United States). French luxury goods company LVMH Mo√ęt Hennessy-Louis Vuitton SA won a similar case against Google in February 2005, and resort chain Le Meridien Hotels and Resorts won a case in December 2004. Other search engine operators have also been targeted. In January, Yahoo! Inc.'s search engine subsidiary Overture lost a suit brought by French hotel chain Accor SA over ad placements by rivals alongside search results for its hotel brands.

    Google's latest legal woes are not limited to its ad placement practices. Agence France Presse sued Google on March 17, 2005, alleging that Google's news search service includes AFP's photos, news headlines, and stories without permission.

    The French news service makes its content available only by subscription. Google News collects photos and news stories from around the Web and posts them on its news site, which is free to users. AFP said it told Google that it is not authorized to use AFP's copyrighted material and has asked Google to cease and desist. It alleged that Google has ignored such requests and "continues in an unabated manner to violate AFP's copyrights." The company is seeking damages of at least $17.5 million and an order barring Google News from displaying AFP photographs, news headlines, or story leads, according to the complaint.

    Google spokesman Steve Langdon defended Google's practices. "We allow publishers to opt out of Google News but most publishers want to be included because they believe it is a benefit to them and to their readers," he said.

    Significance: French law views the practice of responding to an online search for a company's products with information about those of another as the equivalent of counterfeiting. Industry executives say that France's civil law system has not yet caught up with technology, leaving Internet businesses like Google operating in a gray area. In fact, the law that applies to ad placement practices is unsettled outside of France as well, although search engines have fared better in non-French courts. As reported in the October 10, 2004, issue of [email protected], in September 2004, a German court dismissed a trademark infringement case by a German software company against Google. In December 2004, insurance company Geico and Yahoo!'s Overture settled a similar dispute after a U.S. court issued a ruling favorable to Overture.