My friend Greg Lastowka sent me these links about paid placement in search engines, and wonders whether this is "about free speech and free markets or about protecting consumers and trademark owners?":
- Law.com: Seek and Ye Shall Find … or Not (Mark Nutritionals "body solutions" case)
- Playboy Enterprises, Inc. v. Netscape Communications
- FTC Complaint by Commercial Alert over Paid Placement / Deceptive Advertising
- Shaping the Web: Why the politics of search engines matters
- SearchEngineWatch: Pay For Placement?
I’m very wary of companies claiming trademark rights in cases where their brands are common words. I’m all for the free enterprise, but it should fall short of letting private parties own the English language. Plaintiffs complain about "trademark dilution", but I’m tempted to take the opposite stance and accuse them of "common language concentration".
Taken out of context (and where is the context but in the head of the user who types his search query?), I find it dubious and arrogant to claim that "playmate" or "body solutions" (or windows, oracle, sun, lotus, …) are related to likewise-named trademarks. Also, unless it’s done in a confusing and voluntarily deceptive way, I can’t see why web sites couldn’t put a company or brand name next to its competition. I call that web QBE, a legitimate way for users and engines to stem a whole category from a single name.