BharatMatrimony or Google, who is wrong?

By Sudarshan Kumar   |   Thursday, 29 October 2009, 02:41 Hrs   |    9 Comments
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BharatMatrimony or Google, who is wrong?
Bangalore: Was it a part of BharatMatrimony's strategy to gain publicity or protect its trademark? Consim Info, which owns matrimony portal BharatMatrimony.com, had sued Google and three other matrimonial sites for the trademark infringement last month. After hearing the case, even Madras High Court gave an interim injunction to Consim Info. Next hearing is due on November 4, and before the next hearing, we are trying to find out as to what extent this case is true and makes sense for a user.

If any user searches for Tamil Matrimony, Google shows just tamilmatrimony.com, which is owned by Consim Info, on the search page; how can a user get to know about other options available under Tamil Matrimony? But Murugavel Janakiraman, Founder and CEO, Consim Info says, "We are not stopping any user from visiting different websites and choose the best one. But Trademark text should not be used in ad words. By putting trademark test in ad words, Google is misleading our customers."

According to Janakiraman, there are two reasons why he sued Google, and competitors Shaadi.com, Jeevansathi.com and SimplyMarry.com. "Firstly, we filed the case seeking prevention of competitive advertising on Google. People searching for our trademarks know what they are searching for, and Google is the entry point for our sites, so the users should not be shown ads of other similar websites. Secondly, we have asked Google to stop allowing our competitors using our trademarked keywords as headings. For example, if someone searches for 'Tamil Bride', which is a generic keyword, competitors use our trademarks (TamilMatrimony) as headings in Google Ad words, which linkback to their websites," says Janakiraman.

Following this case, when we did the research to find that if the practice of showing competitors' ads when one is searching for a brand name on Google, is happening only in the online matrimony space or in other verticals also, we found that there are similar cases happening with even offline brands such as Adidas, Dell and LIC (Life Insurance Corporation). For instance, a search for Adidas, Puma or Reebok on Google shows advertisements from Nike, while a search for LIC shows ads from Max New York Life and Aegon Religare. Similarly, a search for HP and HCL leads us to ads from Dell and a search for Dell shows ads from Samsung. Even in the real estate vertical, we found that a search for 99acres shows ads from MagicBricks and IndiaProperty.

In the U.S, to improve ad quality user experience, Google adjusted its trademark policy in May 2009 to allow some ads to use trademarks in the ad text. It was done to bring Google's policy on trademark use in ad text more in line with the industry standard. It is clearly mentioned that under certain criteria, one can use trademark terms in its ad text in the U.S. even if that very company don't own that trademark or have explicit approval from the trademark owner to use it. This change was done mainly to help a company to create more narrowly targeted ad text. But, till now there is no system as yet wherein a single trademark application is sufficient to protect the trademark right internationally.

According to Mahesh Murthy, founder and CEO, Pinstorm, Google already has a rule in place which says that if a company can show the proof of its registered trademarks to Google, no one else would be allowed to advertise using these keywords. "For example, words like Jet and Microsoft are registered keywords for Jet Airways and Microsoft Corporation and Google doesn't allow any other advertisements around the same search keyword. Now, in India, if a company fails to show the proof of its registered keywords, Google allows competitors' ads to appear on search results, but restricts usage of the keywords in the copy of the ads," said Murthy.

But has Consim Info done the correct thing by filing the case against Google for trademark infringement, Murthy said, "As claimed by Consim, 'TamilMatrimony' (without a space) is a registered keyword of the group. So, it appears that the group owns a combination of two generic words Tamil and Matrimony. Now, the competitors are using Tamil Matrimony as two separate generic keywords in their ad copies and hence BharatMatrimony can't claim that these two separate generic terms are their registered keywords."

Consim Info can also be held guilty for similar practice, because we found that even their ads are also shown on their competitor's page. Anupam Mittal, Chief Managing Director, Shaadi.com said, "We were genuinely surprised to be named in the lawsuit, especially since the Consim Group has been actively following a practice of bidding on Shaadi.com searches. Perhaps they should have included themselves in the list of companies they thought were in violation of their proposed guidelines."

Consim Info filed the trademark infringement case only for matrimonial site, when the problem prevails at real estate vertical also. On this issue, Janakiraman said, "Though the problem persists across categories and verticals, we decided to go for BharatMatrimony as it is the company's premiere and well-known brand. We had earlier contacted Google on the same but did not get a good response and hence had to move to court."

Though the Madras High Court gave an interim injunction, Murthy said that this is a wrong judgment and the decision should be challenged or else Jet Airways will tomorrow say that 'Airways' is their registered keyword and they want other airlines to stop advertising around that keyword. He also suggested Google to stop using different policies in different countries and to make a standard keyword advertising policy across the world.

But on the trademark policy being followed by Google, Mittal of Shaadi.com said, "Google has a well-articulated policy of disallowing trademarked terms to be shown on AdWords copy, which prevents misrepresentation to consumers. Without this clause, consumers could click on a trademarked term and be directed to an incorrect destination. However, preventing bidding on trademarked keywords is akin to disallowing a company to put up a billboard in front of a competitor's office. It's real estate, which the trademark owner has no right to, and so we are supportive of Google's policy."

Till now, there is no any detailed response form the Google India. In its reply to the case, Google India Spokesperson has just said that they have received the court papers and are in the process of reviewing those.

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