Others' Trademark Terms In Meta Tags Illegal: Georgia Court Rules

The 11th Circuit Court of Georgia ruled the use of others' trademarks in meta tags infringes trademark laws, according to North American Medical Corp. v. Axiom Worldwide, Inc.

How this eventually gets applied across the country remains to be seen but it is the start of legal interpretation of search optimization. How far this can be pushed is what our industry should be thinking about right now.

If applied to the use of trademarked keywords used in Google - though there is another ruling that supported Google's method - could make things hard for non-branded companies who produce products basically known by the trademarked term like Kleenex etc.

Funny Google just launched the ability to use trademarked keywords in the UK last week.

Eric Goldman's Technology and Marketing Law blog gives some insight into the ruling.

"Unfortunately, it's hard to parse this case because the court is imprecise about which metatags were used. I've looked through the defendant's appellate brief and they don't clarify the technology for the court at all--I'm wondering if any of the attorneys involved in this case know that there are multiple types of metatags. We only have the following three facts to work with:

* Axiom included competitive trademarks in the metatags
* Axiom appeared as the second organic search result in Google for the trademarked terms (following the plaintiff, which was #1 in the search results)
* The trademarked terms appeared in the search results descriptions"

Since there is always the possibility Google took the description from other sources apart from the site's description the ruling seems to be potentially overruled if further challenged. As Goldman mentions the "court does not exhibit any understanding of anchor text or the fact that Google sometimes automatically assembles search result descriptions using third party content (such as DMOZ)"

This one could have major impact on all levels of search marketing, I wonder how Google plans to react to this interpretation of their actions. Funny the results in Yahoo or Microsoft were not mentioned.....

About the author

Frank Watson has been involved with the Web since it started. For the past five years, he headed SEM for FXCM -- at one time one of the top 25 spenders with AdWords. He has worked with most of the major analytics companies and pioneered the ability to tie online marketing with offline conversion.

He has now started his own marketing agency, Kangamurra Media. This new venture will keep him busy when he is not editing the Search Engine Watch forums, blogging at a number of authoritative sites, and developing some interesting online community sites.

He was one of the first 100 AdWords Professionals, a Yahoo and Overture Ambassador, and a member or mod of many of the industry forums. He is also on the Click Quality Council and has worked hard to diminish click fraud.