Skip to comments.Does Geico Own 'Geico' Or Does Google? [Geico sues: stop other insurance ads when googling 'Geico']
Posted on 12/13/2004 1:58:58 PM PST by Mike Fieschko
NEW YORK - Geico doesn't mind you Googling Geico, but when you do, it wants Google to tell you about Geico, not Allstate or AIG.
This is the crux of a lawsuit going to trial today in Virginia pitting the car insurer, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway (nyse: BRKa - news - people ), against the search engine that says it wants to organize the world's information, information on car insurance included.
Geico sued Google (nasdaq: GOOG - news - people) in May claiming trademark infringement. The insurer says Google links ads from Geico's rivals to searches for "Geico" itself. This sending of Geico hunters to destinations apart from Geico hurts Geico, Geico says. But Google says what it does is perfectly legal, a form of "fair use" that does not violate Geico's intellectual property. It says that Geico may own Geico, but the word "Geico" is up for grabs.
This form of fair use is big business for Google. It makes the bulk of its revenue, which was $806 million in the third quarter, from selling ads that are targeted to search results. Thus, a search for "Geico" leads to Geico on the left side of the screen, but on the right side, there are "sponsored links" to AIGauto.com, onlinemarts.com and cheapercarinsurance.com. Google went public in August, raising $1.67 billion and its stock has soared since then.
The suit raises novel legal claims. But in heading for trial, Geico has already won a partial victory as Judge Leonie Brinkema of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia this August refused to throw it out on legal grounds. The suit was originally against Overture as well. But Overture settled earlier this month, leaving the more alliterative battle, Geico v. Google, the only case on trial.
Intellectual property law experts are skeptical about Geico's chances. "The case law in this area is very primitive and unformed," says Susan Crawford, who teaches cyberspace law at Cardozo Law School. But Google, she adds, has "very strong arguments" as there is simply no confusion created that would undermine Geico's mark.
Bill Patry, a partner in Thelen Ried & Priest and an author of a leading treatise on copyright law, agrees, pointing out that a trademark owner does not own the name, but the name in association with a product. Geico's position, he says, "sounds like a very monopolistic, expansive use of trademark." He adds, "It sounds like a very strange suit to me"
Google does the same thing to everybody--almost. A search for "Nike" brings up sites that sell Nike (nyse: NKE - news - people) products, but none that sell Reeboks (presumably because Nike sellers were the ones to buy the links. A search for "Microsoft" leads to many Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people) sites, but also to companies offering to "fix Microsoft errors," which the colossus of Redmond may or may not appreciate. A search for "Dell" will get you to Dell.com, both on the left and on the right, as Dell (nasdaq: DELL - news - people ) has, it seems, purchased sponsored links to itself. That search leads not to Gateway. A search for Forbes gets you Forbes, and also a diamond merchant that Forbes said nice things about.
On the other hand, a Google search for Google leads the searcher to Google sites, with no sponsored links at all. If you use Google to search for Google rival Yahoo! (nasdaq: YHOO - news - people ), all you get is Yahoo!. This leads to the question, if sponsored links are such a great idea, why doesn't Google or Yahoo! buy any for themselves?
This should be interesting. At this point, I think Geico should win, easily.
Would Geico rather not be able to be googled at all?
Stupid. A search for "Geico" brings up Geico Insurance's web site as the first hit. This is just a stupid suit, brought by a company that want's to stop Google from selling ads linked to keywords. It won't work, especially since Geico's web site is the first hit on the list.
If somehow Geico could win this suit, if I were google, I'd then leave "geico" out of the database, and have searches come up empty.
It is interesting. My money would be on google to win.
This sounds like a solid antitrust case to me.
Yep. Geico's opening up a can of whoop*ss here.
Also, customer perception is everything. Currently, Geico is seen as a customer-friendly corporation... if they're suddenly seen as greedy, their business will drop off dramatically.
That is a copyright issue dealing with meta tags, keywords and website descriptions using Gieco's name. It has nothing to do with Google. Google can not be the meta tag police.
If I was CEO of Google, I would block Geico.
What happens if you Google gecko?
If google doesn't win, it basically destroys googles business model.
Next question ???
Well, you might have to go ahead a couple of pages:
Any logical basis for what you "think," or is it really just what you "feel?"
I don't see why you think Geico will win easily. I watch television by way of Dishnetwork and I see DirecTv ads all the time. If Dish had their way I'm sure I would never see a DirecTv ad.
GEICO can get on the right side with just a few $$$.
I just googled Geico and I don't see any ads for anyone else.
My money would be on the lawyers.
I manage online bidding for a company...we advertise on many search engines.
We advertise on Google using keywords. Bidding is competitive, but when I google "Geico", their site comes up first and they are not bidding for that position on the main page.
Google is doing them a favor...unlike Yahoo, Altavista, and a host of other search engines, the mainpage sites listed are self edited by Google and you can not "pay" for that position.
You can "pay" to position yourself in the top of the page ads, or side of the page ads.
Geico should thank Google, not sue them. Google could demote them to 3rd or 4th page in their "free" listings if they wanted to.
"Geico should thank Google, not sue them. Google could demote them to 3rd or 4th page in their "free" listings if they wanted to"
This made me think of how much influence Google has on other's research...
Ya gonna hear from my lawyer!
The same with Dish ads that appear on cable TV. The cable companies do what they can to block them but hey it's the nature of advertising.
Yeah! Geico could buy the ad space.
wrong company - I think this claim is made by Progressive
I think that's Progressive.
ALEXANDRIA, Va. - A federal judge heard arguments Monday in a trademark dispute that could threaten millions in advertising revenue for search engine Google Inc
Attorneys for auto insurance giant Geico told U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema that Google should not be allowed to sell ads to rival insurance companies that are triggered whenever Geico's name is typed into the Google search box.
Geico claims that Google's AdWords program, which displays the rival ads under a "Sponsored Links" heading next to a user's search results, causes confusion for consumers and illegally exploits Geico's investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in its brand.
"When a consumers enters 'Geico' ... and goes to the sponsored link believing there's a connection, that is where the confusion arises," said Geico attorney Charles Ossola.
But Google attorney Michael Page said the ad policy is no different than a supermarket giving out coupons for one product in the checkout line when a customer buys the same product from a different company.
"There is nothing wrong with that under the trademark laws," Page said.
Geico filed the lawsuit against Google in May, seeking $8.65 million in lost profits and a court order preventing Google from using its name in the advertising program.
Under the program, for example, a competing insurance company could bid to have its ad appear every time Google users search for the word "Geico." When a user clicks on an ad, the advertiser pays Google a predetermined fee.
Google is facing similar lawsuits from other companies, including American Blind and Wallpaper Factory Inc. and AXA, the world's No. 3 insurer. Last year, Google asked a court to rule on whether its pay-for-placement ad policy is legal.
John McCutcheon, Geico's assistant vice president of marketing, testified Monday that most consumers visit just one Web site when shopping for auto insurance. If a consumer trying to find Geico is unknowingly steered to a competitor's site, "We've lost one opportunity."
The Geico lawsuit, filed in May, came just weeks after Google said it hoped to raise $2.7 billion with an initial public stock offering. The vast majority of Google's ad revenue comes from search-related advertising. In federal filings, the company said it would face financial risks if it was forced to limit sales of keyword ads to generic words.
Geico's lawsuit had also named Web site company Overture Services, a Yahoo! subsidiary, but the two companies reached an undisclosed settlement in November, after Brinkema denied a motion to dismiss the trademark claims.
The bench trial is expected to last three days, after which Brinkema could issue a decision or take the matter under advisement.
Yes. No. Now, go piss up a rope.
You're the expert at that.
Although I think it should win easily, it does not necessarily follow that I believe it will. I don't. This is mostly uncharted territory. Granted, both sides have good points.
I watch television by way of Dishnetwork and I see DirecTv ads all the time. If Dish had their way I'm sure I would never see a DirecTv ad.
The difference has to do with, as the title says, "Who owns 'Geico.'" It's explained pretty well in the first few paragraphs of the article. Google is profiting from its direct use of the trademark "Geico" by selling and serving the ads of Geico's competitors. The combination of those three points make this very different from your analogy.
Finally, as was implied by my previous post, I have an open mind about it. I'd welcome the chance to be on the jury.
I think that Google would be compromising their 'neutral' search results and threaten the goodwill they have built up if they were to be so capricious as block GEICO from a search request...
Good thing Google won, huh?
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