Interflora wins AdWords trademark breach case

Trademark tussle ends

The High Court of England and Wales has ruled in favour of Interflora, in a long-running AdWords trademark dispute with Marks and Spencer.

The battle began in 2008, when Interflora complained that Marks and Spencer's flowers and gifts division was bidding on its brand name on Google's AdWords service. As a result, people searching for the name Interflora would see a PPC ad for M&S Flowers - and at the time of writing, still do. However, Mr Justice Arnold explained:

"The M&S advertisements which are the subject of Interflora's claim did not enable reasonably well-informed and reasonably attentive internet users to ascertain whether the service referred to in the advertisements originated from [M&S or Interflora]."

As a result, users may have been "led to believe, incorrectly" that M&S was somehow affiliated with Interflora. An M&S spokesperson said the company was "disappointed" - and will have the right to appeal. The British high street giant will be ordered to pay damages and costs, with the total to be decided at a later hearing.

The decision is good news for Interflora, who earlier this year lost a huge amount of custom and revenue as Google's crackdown on paid linking caused them to vanish from natural search results.

Brand name piggybacking

Bidding on the brand names of other companies has long been a common practice in PPC, but something of a grey area. However, in April 2013 Google updated its AdWords trademark policy to state that bidding on a brand name as a keyword to trigger an ad is acceptable, allowing companies to piggyback on the success of a competitor or market leader. The usage of a brand name in the ad copy is however not permitted, with companies able to complain to Google if they spot a competitor misleading users.

Natalie Booth, head of search at theEword, commented: "The conflict between Google's policy and the High Court's decision may cause confusion for marketers in future; however, each campaign should be judged individually on its transparency and fairness. While offering people an alternative to the brand name they have searched for can be beneficial, misleading users is always wrong - and may do more harm to the company than good."