Wisconsin State Court OKs Bidding On Trademarks In Paid Search

Image courtesy Shutterstock.com

Image courtesy Shutterstock.com.

A Wisconsin appeals court this week affirmed a circuit court’s ruling that it’s OK to use trademarks as keywords to trigger the display of paid search ads. The court’s conclusions are in line with search engines’ policies with regard to trademark bidding and with a Federal case decided last year in California.

The Wisconsin case, which involved two personal injury law firms, centered around what it means to “use” a name for advertising purposes.

In the 2009 lawsuit, the owners of the Habush Habush & Rottier firm accused competitor Cannon & Dunphy of violating their privacy by using the terms “Habush” and “Rottier” as keywords in their search advertising campaigns on Google, Yahoo and Bing.

The Wisconsin statute in question says people are entitled to relief if their privacy is invaded, and one definition of invasion of privacy includes:

The use, for advertising purposes or for purposes of trade, of the name, portrait or picture of any living person, without having first obtained the written consent of the person or, if the person is a minor, of his or her parent or guardian

The appeals court affirmed the circuit court ruling, likening bidding on trademarks to one business locating its office near that of another, more established business, to take advantage of the flow of potential customers who come there.

“This strategy undeniably takes advantage of the name of the established business and its ability to draw potential customers, but the strategy does not ‘use’ the name of the business in the same way as putting the name or image of the business in an advertisement or on a product,” the appeals court wrote in its decision.

This question of whether it’s acceptable to use competitors’ trademarks as keywords, has been the subject of longstanding debate in the search marketing business, but it’s growing clearer that what has become standard practice — because of search engines’ policies — will likely stand up to legal scrutiny.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Google: AdWords | Legal: Privacy | Legal: Trademarks | Microsoft: Bing Ads


About The Author: is Executive Features Editor at Search Engine Land and Marketing Land. She’s a well-respected authority on digital marketing, having reported and written on the subject since 1998.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.

Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide