Is Google’s new trade mark policy fuelling brand interception online?

17 June 2008

Nucleus’ latest Special Report “The Great Online Holiday Hijack 2008” is the third survey of brand interception in the UK online travel industry and concludes that it’s still gloves off in the world of online advertising.

Nucleus found that:

  • 67% of the 124 companies surveyed were victims of brand interception (up from 59% in our last survey) 
  • The total number of interceptions had halved since 2006 • 17% of interceptions included the victim’s brand name in the actual content of the advertisement 
  • 20% of surveyed companies had requested Google to prevent others from using their trade mark in the content of the ads (up from 11% in 2006) 
  • 13% of our sample actively intercepted other brands in the survey 
  • 45% of the sample were bidding on their own brand name

Commenting on the findings, Nucleus’ managing director Peter Matthews said “In our latest survey we’ve noticed a number of interesting trends which, no doubt, will be fuelled further by Google relaxing its policy banning trade marked brand names from key word searches; thereby, for some, legitimizing the activity.”

“Our survey was conducted just a week after Google announced its change of policy,” he continued “so we’re expecting this practice to escalate over the summer during the ‘lates’ period. Brand owners beware – you will need to be increasingly vigilant and be prepared to defend your trade mark rights.”

Nucleus also found evidence that rumoured ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ between some of the big brands in the industry appear to be in place, but agreements not to target each other’s brands hadn’t stopped some of the smaller brands (and some well known brands, too) continuing the practice. Some of the companies in the survey were actively protecting their brands with threats of trade mark infringement litigation or de-selecting affiliates for targeted their keywords, but this has not stopped the activity. In fact, Nucleus found many areas where brand name interception is flourishing with some blatant use of brand names even in the advertisement content.

Francis Preedy, a senior trade mark attorney at Nucleus-ip, commented “Well, Google have now washed their hands, leaving it up to each brand owner to rely on its own intellectual property protection. It would be wise to review whether your brands are properly protected, because if they are not, you now have no way of stopping your brand being intercepted online.” To find out whether this activity is the unacceptable but effective face of online capitalism, or the legitimizing of unethical, opportunistic, parasitic practices, you should read the full report ‘‘The Great Online Holiday Hijack 2008”.