Vuitton beats Google on home court

The International Herald Tribune reports:

Louis Vuitton, the luxury goods manufacturer, won another round Wednesday in its court battle with the search engine Google to eliminate online ads of competitors or counterfeiters that show up in searches for the well-known French brand.

In a closely watched trademark case, a Paris appeals court issued a ruling that found Google engaged in trademark counterfeiting, a decision that the court said would apply to all of the search engine’s sites in more than 130 different countries. The court also increased the damages Google is ordered to pay from €200,000, or $251,700, to €300,000, plus legal costs.

“The consequence is that Google will have to put a system in place to find a gal solution for its sites,” said Patrice de Candé, a lawyer specializing in intellectual property who has challenged Google in a handful of lawsuits, including the Louis Vuitton case.

This is a huge deal, and all the IP bloggers who already went home tonight will be all over it tomorrow. Did you read this part?: “a decision that the court said would apply to all of the search engine’s sites in more than 130 different countries” —

Any countries we know?

Major luxury goods manufacturers have avoided taking on Google in the U.S., probably because U.S. judges are so, well, unpredictable. This has always been must-win litigation. Google and others (such as eBay) have argued that “they can’t” police the use of trademarks as search terms by those selling competing or counterfeit goods, but I have never bought that argument. “We can’t” means “we won’t bear the cost” or, rather, “we won’t bear the cost unless someone makes us.” But their businesses are highly profitable, and bearing the cost of policing them to prevent illegal activity — and as soft as I may be on nonsense such as “initial interest confusion,” I hold no brief for trademark counterfeiting — is a completely reasonable thing to expect those who profit from it to do. Yes, luxury goods, with their enormous markup, are also highly profitable; but they build the value that everyone else is building on. Counterfeiters, and third-party enablers such as eBay and Google, are riding on that value, indeed riding mighty high — but they’re riding on value created by others. They’re the ones who should be taxed to prevent trademark misuse.

UPDATE: Others are less impressed:

Nice win for the French, but Google couldn’t really care less…

“This is an old Adwords case–and none of the issues apply today,” a Google representative said in a prepared statement. “We have a trademark policy, which prevents bids on other people’s registered trademarks, and we do not allow people to advertise with AdWords for counterfeit products. Today’s case does not raise any new issues whatsoever.”

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Ron Coleman

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