EU court adviser backs Google on Net ads

LUXEMBOURG Tue Sep 22, 2009 12:59pm EDT

A photo of the Google Inc. logo is shown on a computer screen in San Francisco, California July 16, 2009. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

A photo of the Google Inc. logo is shown on a computer screen in San Francisco, California July 16, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Robert Galbraith

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LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) - An adviser to the European Union's top court backed Google in a row with luxury goods maker LVMH over Internet advertising, saying the Web search firm had not infringed trade mark rights.

The case centers on whether Google has the right to sell brand names for Internet search advertising -- a money-spinner for the group.

Companies such as shoe stores, for example, pay Google so their name appears alongside Internet search results for a brand of designer shoes they sell.

LVMH's Louis Vuitton fashion brand and others have been fighting such advertising after makers of imitation products piggybacked on those brands in online searches to attract customers.

But the European Court of Justice said Tuesday that Advocate General Poiares Maduro "considers that Google has not infringed trade mark rights by allowing advertisers to buy keywords corresponding to registered trade marks."

The French courts last year referred the case to the EU tribunal, seeking guidance on whether Google's use of keywords contravened companies' rights under EU trade mark laws.

LVMH said Google could still face legal and criminal action.

"The use of a brand that gives Google an undue advantage in its business means that Google can be brought to national courts for both legal and criminal cases," it said in a statement.

Louis Vuitton, whose products are advertised by the singer Madonna in glossy magazines, contributes more than half of LVMH's core profits.

Maduro said in his opinion the use of the trade marks was limited to the selection of keywords, which concerned only Google and the advertisers.

"When selecting keywords, there is thus no product or service sold to the general public. Such a use cannot therefore be considered as being a use made in relation to goods or services covered by the trade marks," he said.

He added that Internet users' access to information concerning a trade mark should not be limited by its owner.

Google may be liable if it features content that involves trade mark infringement, the adviser said.

But trade mark owners would have to point to specific instances "giving rise to Google's liability in the context of illegal damage to their trade marks," the court statement said.

Google said it was awaiting the decision of the court, reiterating that selecting a keyword to trigger the display of an ad did not amount to trade mark infringement.

The Luxembourg-based court follows the opinion of its advocates general in a majority of cases. The judges are beginning their deliberations in this case and will give judgment at a later date, the court statement said.

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