By David M. Lilenfeld
David M. Lilenfeld is an intellectual property lawyer with Lilenfeld PC in Atlanta. He specializes in representing clients in disputes relating to their trademarks, copyrights, patents and trade secrets. www.lilenfeldpc.com
Search engine advertising programs, such as Google AdWords, have triggered the widespread practice of companies buying the use of their competitors' trademarks to advertise their own services. This means when someone searches for your company on the Internet, they may see a "Sponsored Link" belonging to your competition to the right of the search results. In a market where Google earned more than $23 billion in AdWords revenue in 2009, this is big news for businesses that invest hard-earned dollars in building a brand.
Let's say a hypothetical business, which we will call XYZ Consulting, learned that its competitor, Acme Consultants, was obtaining many new customers from the Internet. This prompts XYZ Consulting to start its own Internet advertising campaign. It enrolls in an advertising program, such as Google AdWords, and purchases its own brand name as a keyword. In addition, it buys the keyword of its competitor, "Acme Consultants." By buying the "Acme Consultants" keyword, XYZ Consulting's advertisement will appear whenever someone searches for "Acme Consultants."
Taking this further, XYZ Consulting might also have its webmaster include the mark "Acme Consultants" as a metatag, also known as hidden text, in the code behind XYZ Consulting's website. Doing so would increase the chance that XYZ Consulting's website is included in the results when a Googl...