By Cecilia Kang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Rosetta Stone, the Arlington language-learning software firm, said yesterday it has filed a lawsuit against Google for trademark infringement, alleging the Internet search giant allowed other companies to use Rosetta Stone's trademark brand for online advertisements without permission.
In the suit filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Rosetta Stone asked the court to stop Google from allowing other firms -- including competitors -- to use its trademarks to sell ads associated with online searches.
"Google and its advertisers benefit financially from and trade off the goodwill and reputation of Rosetta Stone without incurring the substantial expense that Rosetta Stone has incurred in building up its popularity, name recognition and brand loyalty," Michael Wu, general counsel of Rosetta Stone, said in a statement.
At issue is Google's AdWords program, which allows companies to buy keywords. When a consumer types those words into an Internet search, Google's program then triggers text and other ads to appear along with the search results.
Rosetta Stone said in the lawsuit that when other firms buy Rosetta Stone's trademarks for keyword searches, ads for their own Web sites appear and unfairly mislead people into thinking they are going to the Arlington firm's site. Some of the company's trademarks include "Rosetta Stone," "global traveler," "language library," and "dynamic immersion."
Trademark law experts say the issue boils down to whether the practice confuses consumers. Google argues, for example, that when a consumer searches for Huggies diapers and an advertisement for Pampers appears, most consumers are aware that the Pampers ad will lead the consumer to the Pampers Web site.
Google said it had not yet been served the lawsuit and declined to comment directly about Rosetta Stone's complaint.
The complaint is the latest of nine similar lawsuits against Google since the company changed one of its trademark policies for its AdWords program, according to Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman.
And while companies argue that their business is being hurt by Google's practices, Goldman said courts will focus on whether consumers are confused as to the source of or affiliation of the product or service they are trying to buy.
"That's where things are unclear," Goldman said. "There's not a lot of social science explaining what consumers think when they do search and if there is consumer confusion."