Protecting Your Name in Internet Advertising

July 11, 2011
Legal Alert

If you have ever tried to run an internet search for your business name to see what pops up under the results, you might notice “sponsored advertising” links above, below or next to the search results. In those sponsored listings, you might also notice these ads are using your business name or identifying your product in the advertisement itself, even though you are in no way affiliated with the advertiser.

How it works is an advertiser submits to a search company certain words to be used search terms, which could include your trademark, and an internet search for those words will pull up the sponsored ad result with a link to the advertiser’s website. The sponsored ad may even include your name or trademark. Obviously, a competitor or unauthorized retailer’s use of your name/trademark in a sponsored ad is an attempt to divert internet traffic—and potential customers—from your website.

“How can they do that?” you might wonder. The search engine companies take the position that the advertiser is responsible for selection of the keywords used to generate ad results as well as for the content of the ads. But, search engines will investigate complaints of unauthorized use of a trademark upon request. Even this complaint process is not foolproof, as it may require a little back and forth communication with the search engine with respect to the scope of your trademark protection and what constitutes unauthorized use.

The legal reality is, if your business name is protected by a registered trademark, “they” can’t do that. But they will continue to use your name until forced to stop. Various approaches exist to bring unauthorized use of your trademark to an end, but it will require you to take the first step. You may also have more formal remedies be pursued if necessary.

This Legal Alert is presented by Paul Gary, an attorney at the Gary Law Group based in Portland, Ore. The firm specializes in legal services for the window and door industry. More information is available at  Contact Gary at for further information or to receive the firm's "Risk in the Fenestration Industry” quarterly newsletter.