Canada's Supreme Court decision against Google has far reaching implications

On 28 June 2017 Canada's Supreme Court upheld a decision ordering Google to remove links to websites unlawfully selling the intellectual property of another company. The Judges (7-2) in Google Inc. v. Equustek Solutions Inc maintained that Canadian courts had authority to issue an injunction forcing Google, a non-party to the initial proceedings, to delete search results, not only within Canada but globally.

The underlying action (commenced in 2011) involved Equustek Solutions Inc (Equustek), a small technology company, launching proceedings against Datalink Technologies Gateways LLC (Datalink). Equustek claimed that while acting as a distributor of Equustek's products, Datalink re-labelled one of Equustek's products to pass it off as its own, and that Datalink used confidential information and trade secrets belonging to Equustek to design a competing product.

Equustek initially obtained injunctions against Datalink, prohibiting the sale of inventory and use of Equustek's intellectual property. When this proved ineffective, Equustek sought a court order against Google, to prohibit it from displaying search results that included Datalink’s websites globally. The Supreme Court of British Columbia granted the injunction noting that "Datalink’s ability to sell its counterfeit product is, in large part, contingent on customers being able to locate its websites through the use of Google’s search engine. Only by preventing potential customers from accessing the Datalink websites, could Equustek be protected." In response to the initial injunction, between December 2012 and January 2013, Google de‑indexed 345 specific webpages associated with Datalink. However, the de-indexing was limited to google.ca meaning Datalink were still able to display their products outside of this domain.

The issue considered by Canada's Supreme Court was whether the Supreme Court of British Columbia had jurisdiction to grant an injunction with extraterritorial effect. It was found that the Court held jurisdiction over Google with respect to the injunction application as "a court can grant an injunction enjoining conduct anywhere in the world. The problem in this case is occurring online and globally. The Internet has no borders — its natural habitat is global. The only way to ensure that the interlocutory injunction attained its objective was to have it apply where Google operates — globally."

What are the implications of this case?

The ruling has potentially broad implications for the way in which courts globally deal with issues concerning the internet and the authority one country has to decide on the internet content viewable by the rest of the world. Critics of the judgment are concerned that the ruling will have troubling implications for free expression and access to information. This case may be good news for companies trying to protect their intellectual property as this case shows that it can be possible to stop infringements worldwide, not just in the countries where proceedings were brought.