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Google Aims to Make it Harder to Misuse Trademarks

Google has found itself in the hot seat more than once over companies using their competitors' trademarks as keywords in search ads. But the issue that really causes the company problems is when people try to sell counterfeit goods through the company's AdWords system and use the trademarks of the real thing in their ads. A patent application made public yesterday suggests that Google is -- surprise, surprise -- trying to automate the process.

U.S. patent application number 20110072518 is titled AUTOMATED SCREENING OF CONTENT BASED ON INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS. Filed in December 2010, it is a system that does the following:

  1. receive content from a third party;
  2. scan the content for trademarked terms;
  3. and determine whether to display the content.
The system is largely targeted at ads, though the patent is not restricted to just that. It could work off a "predetermined list of trademarked terms and phrases" that "complaining trademark owners" submit. In the case of an automated decision to keep an ad from being displayed, there could be manual review or "additional automated investigation," including sending a copy of the ad to the trademark owner and letting that company make the decision.

Clearly, someone at Google has been fielding a lot of calls from cranky trademark owners. Although the system is focused on ads, it wouldn't seem to difficult to adapt it to keyword bids, should a region like Europe decide that such activity wasn't legal. Presumably, Google could take lists of trademarks from owners, scan keyword bids for them, and then send the bidding activity back to the owner to see if they are, indeed, legitimate.

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Image: morgueFile user clarita.
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