A recent survey by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia says that online sales for the Christmas period are set to peak between December 7 and 10.[1]  The survey estimates that these sales are worth $2.3 billion.  To secure your company’s piece of this pie now is a great time to make sure you have control of your brand online and that your competitors aren’t leveraging off your trade marks to direct internet users to their websites.

How does this happen?  Unless you have notified Google of your trade marks rights, third parties can purchase your word trade mark as a 'keyword' or even use it in the text of their online ad to direct internet traffic intended for your site towards their site.  Their site may then appear before yours in the search results and result in the internet user visiting, and making a purchase from, their site rather than yours.

Is this legal?  Well, in most cases, no, it's not.  In Australia, such conduct may well constitute trade mark infringement and a breach the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).  Fortunately for brand owners, this means that Google will, in most instances, take steps to stop the problem continuing.

If you want to find out whether this is an issue for your brand, type your word trade mark into Google.  If a competitor’s website appears in the search results before yours, you have a problem.  The good news is that, in most cases, there are simple steps that you can take to stop this occurring.  You can lodge a complaint with Google including a list of your trade marks and follow up with a direct complaint to the competitor.

The steps that Google will take following the receipt of a trade mark complaint vary from country to country.  In Australia, in most circumstances, Google will restrict third parties from using your word trade mark as a keyword or in the text of their AdWords ads.

If your business has an AdWords account with Google, you should also ensure that your online marketing team is aware that if it selects keywords including third party names or trade marks such conduct may well constitute trade mark infringement and a breach(es) of the ACL.

This article is focussed on the Google complaints procedure rather than the mechanisms provided by other search engines due to the fact that Google dominates the search market in Australia.  A recent HitWise report shows that in Australia over 93% of searches each day are run through Google.[2]

So if you only check one search engine before December 7, make sure it’s Google.