Imagine opening a website, keying in a few search terms and presto! You are on the page of a rival website. Users may not mind such an occurrence, but the website in question surely will. That’s exactly what happened recently when Consim India, owners of bharatmatrimony.com and indiaproperties.com, petitioned the Madras High Court against Google.com for “infringing” on its trademark. In its petition, Consim said Google ads were being used in Bharat Matrimony’s platform to sell space to the latter’s competitors. For instance, if a user keys in “Tamil matrimony” in the Google search field on Bharat Matrimony, the websites thrown up include competitors such as shaadi.com.
According to cyber law expert Pavan Duggal, Google Adwords has been the subject of different litigations in the US as well. The thrust of the subject matter in those cases has been Google’s supposed infringement of the trademark of third parties. “In some cases, Google has been able to show that its usage of trademarks in Google Adwords does not constitute any confusion. However, different cases have different facts,” says Duggal.
Legal experts say the court will have to examine whether Google has used a mark that is deceptively similar to the trademark of Bharat Matrimony. It will then be imperative for Google and the others involved to demonstrate that the usage of the trademark is in accordance with honest practices in industrial and commercial matters.
According to Duggal, companies can guard against such situations by writing to Google to specifically exclude their registered trademarks from the ambit of Google Adwords. “If even after that there is no response, and a case is made out for infringement of registered trademark, then the company could take appropriate legal steps,” he says.
Wordsmith (New words in business)
What: A business model where 90 per cent customers receive a company’s basic products and services for free, and the other 10 per cent choose to pay for advanced, special features.
Where: American venture capitalist Fred Wilson coined the term in 2006. He described the model and asked readers for suggestions of what to call it; Jarid Lukin, from one of Wilson’s portfolio companies, came up with the winning “freemium.”
Why: According to Wired Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson, freemium has become a hugely popular model with Web 2.0 companies like Flickr, LinkedIn and Skype. The model works because the cost of serving the majority of non-payers is so close to zero, thanks to technological advances, that online companies still make a profit from the paying minority.