Blogger’s twist on Google’s trademark disputes

A London-based blogger, Frank Fuchs, said Google ordered him to stop using its trademarked logo on his Web site.

The action comes as Google faces criticism and lawsuits for allegedly infringing on the trademarks and copyrights of other groups.

Fuchs’ site, called a “Guide On How To Get Your Business Listed On Major Local Search Engines,” includes the names of local search engines, such as Yahoo Local, Ask City or Google Maps. He also puts the logo of each service next to his brief descriptions of them. Fuchs said he is EU product manager for local search at Yahoo Inc.

In his blog, Fuchs said he recently received an e-mail with the following subject line: “Unauthorized use of the GOOGLE logo on” The sender was the Google Trademark Enforcement Team.

According to the e-mail, Fuchs was using the Google logo on his site without the company’s express written permission.

“Please note that we allow use of our logo only if we have granted express written permission,” said the enforcement team’s e-mail, citing Google’s Guidelines for Third Party Use of Google Brand Features. “Such unauthorized use constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition under both federal and state laws. It misleads consumers into believing that some association exists between you and Google; and it weakens the ability of the GOOGLE mark and name to identify a single source, namely, Google.”

The Google team, in its e-mail to Fuchs, instructed him to contact them within seven calendar days to confirm that he would “cease and desist using Google’s trademark, take commercially reasonable measures to limit the unauthorized use of the GOOGLE mark and/or logos on materials that have already been created and agree not to use the company’s trademark without written permission in the future.”

Fuchs said he complied and removed the logo from his site and added a note explaining the situation in place of the logo.

In his reply to the enforcement team Fuchs said, “Hi guys, Thanks for the note. I’ve removed the logo from the page, and just wasn’t aware of the limitations. Sorry for that. But out of curiosity — I don’t make money off this page I’m just providing an overview of services — actually refer people to you. And there are millions of pages out there using your logo to advertise their paid services — so how come you picked me?”

The Google Enforcement Team didn’t respond to Fuchs’ question. Google didn’t respond to a request for comment at deadline.

Google is no stranger to controversy over trademark and copyright infringement. The company faces two lawsuits involving the Google Books Library Project, its effort to digitize millions of books. The Authors Guild Inc. and the Association of American Publishers both said that Google needs to get permission from authors before scanning in-copyright books it obtains from libraries. Google has maintained that its activities are consistent with U.S. copyright law.

The company also came under fire from the French news agency Agence France Presse, which sued Google for copyright infringement for including the news agency’s content on the Google News site. The suit has since been settled, and the AFP has a licensing agreement that permits Google to use AFP news and photos on its site.

Last week, American Airlines Inc. sued Google, alleging that the Internet search company is infringing on the airline’s trademarks by using them as keyword triggers for paid advertisements by other companies.

In its lawsuit, the airline said that by selling its trademarks to other companies, consumers could be deceived into believing that they were being provided with information about American Airlines’ flights and services.

At the time, Google said it was confident that its trademark policy struck a proper balance between the interests of trademark owners and consumer choice, and that its position has been validated by decisions in previous trademark cases.

“So what is my take on this?” Fuchs asked in his blog. “After having slept over this … it’s just a little too bold to act like this, even if you are a big brand and you have to protect it, there should be a way to allow people like me to use the logo without ‘express written permission.’ But to be fair I’ve had a look at [Yahoo’s] brand guidelines that consist of 41 chapters and we are not really too different and pretty picky about our brand and logo etc. because of good reason — obviously.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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