American Airlines sues Google over keywords

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American Airlines sues Google over keywords

Mountain View (CA) – Yes, another week, another tech lawsuit – this time it’s American Airlines suing Google for its keyword ad placement.  American Airlines alleges that Google sells sponsored links on top and to the right of search pages that, according to American Airlines, dilutes the company’s good name and confuses the public.

American Airlines filed the massive 55-page complaint in the Northern US District Court of Texas and demands a jury trial.  If it wins, the airline wants an injunction, treble damages and money to conduct a “corrective advertising campaign”.

In Google’s “AdWords” program, the company sells pay per click ads that are triggered by keywords.  These ads are set along the sides and top of the search engine page and are distinctly marked as “Sponsored Links”.  So a person searching for Los Angeles airline flights could get American Airlines in the center search window, but also Southwest and other airlines in the right side of the screen.  Regular search engine placement is determined by Google and cannot be purchased, however many online companies attempt to boost their rankings by using search engine optimization techniques (SEO).

While Google believes the sponsored section of the search windows is distinct enough for consumers, American Airlines believes differently.  According to the complaint, the airline thinks the links allows competitors to grab business from American and that they also violate trademark laws by confusing and diluting the American Airlines name.  “They seek a free ride on the reputation and goodwill of another’s brand,” said American Airlines in the complaint.

 A quick Google search of American Airlines currently brings up a set of sponsored links (the ones you see on the right side of the search screen) by Cheap Air Tickets and CheapnHotels.  American Airlines has purchased the most prominent sponsored link location at the top center of the search window.

Google has faced similar lawsuits in the past, most notably from the GEICO auto insurance group in 2004.  In that case, a federal judge ruled that the search engine company could continue selling Sponsored Links triggered by search terms.