French Co. Sues Google Over Trademark

Gretchen Gallen
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – Google continues to find itself in hot legal water over trademark violations and this week was named in a lawsuit filed by French company AXA, a financial protection and wealth management company with more than $979 billion in client assets.

Paris-based AXA is scheduled to take the search engine company to court next month in the latest trademark dispute over Google's AdWords paid search service, which has caught the ire of numerous other companies that contend the service violates trademark law by including links to competitor's sites in paid advertising search results.

The overriding concern is that the service creates brand recognition confusion, the basis for most trademark infringement cases.

Analysts agree that the increasing concern over trademark issues could have far-reaching implications for other search sites that offer paid search results, like Yahoo and Overture.

The case is being likened to a three-year lawsuit between Playboy Enterprises and Excite.com and Netscape in which Playboy claimed the two companies had jointly infringed on the Playboy and Playmate trademarks in Internet searches and banner ads that did not link to official Playboy content.

Playboy won the case for an undisclosed amount of money based on the fact that its trademark was being used in a deliberately confusing manner.

"As soon as you have a situation where an Internet user enters 'AXA' and is given results including other companies offering equivalent products, that can be deemed a trademark infringement," Valerie Aumage of the Paris law firm Dubarry Le Douarin Veil, told the Associated Press.

AdWords typically accounts for more than 75 percent of Google's total revenue.

Google has so far found itself in litigation over the AdWords service with American Blind and Wallpaper Factory Inc., Pets Warehouse, and French luggage maker Louis Vuitton.

AXA is reportedly calling the service a form of "brand counterfeiting" and is asking for damages.

There is speculation among industry analysts that the lawsuit could delay Google's projected Initial Public Offering, which the company stated Friday could happen within the coming week.

A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for May 10 in Paris.