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With the recent SOPA and PIPA bills in Congress, many people have been taking a fresh look at intellectual property law. One area that has been the subject of several large lawsuits is the topic of bidding on trademarked terms on pay-per-click platforms such as Google AdWords or Microsoft adCenter. So what’s the big deal?

How It Used to Be

In the early days PPC platforms were no-holds-barred. The auction-based nature allowed anyone with enough money to bid on any term they wanted. However, recent legal cases have greatly clarified exactly what is and isn’t allowed in regard to trademarked terms.

Current Guidelines

From Google’s official advertising policies:

“Our AdWords Terms and Conditions prohibit intellectual property infringement by advertisers. Advertisers are responsible for the keywords they choose to generate advertisements and the text that they choose to use in those advertisements.”

Basically, Google refuses to moderate disputes over which keywords an advertiser bids on. takes a similar stance, but does offer additional clarification on :

“Advertisers are now allowed to bid on other advertiser’s trademarked terms as long as they are categorically relevant.”

In short, you are allowed to bid on a trademarked term and other advertisers are allowed to bid on your trademarked terms. However, there are still limitations.

What’s Prohibited?

Though advertisers are allowed to bid on trademarked terms, they are not allowed to use those trademarked terms in ad copy. This policy has been through significant legal review and is generally considered resolved after the European court of justice ruled in Google’s favor on a dispute with Louis Vitton in March of 2010.

While some advertisers seek to circumvent this policy via the use of Dynamic Keyword Insertion (DKI), advertisers can submit complaints and get the offending ads disallowed without much trouble.

The one area where trademark owners may have significant difficulty in removing an advertisement would be in situations where the trademarked term is used in the Display URL. If the platform is unwilling to handle the complaint a trademark owner may need to resort to legal action to protect the infringed trademark.

 This post is a guest post submitted by Gary Lightman, attorney at law on the east coast for over 30 years. 

Peter Daisyme is a writer, computer nerd, Virtual Tour Fan, Writer at PPC.org. & Bloggin.org. Follow me on Twitter @peterdaisyme

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