If your company is large enough and popular enough, your company name and trademark may suddenly become valuable pay per click search terms not only for yourself, but for your competitors as well. In some cases, your competitors may find that by bidding on keywords related to your company they can reach out to customers who originally intended to purchase from you. Obviously, this is a situation most of us would like to avoid. Unfortunately, most PPC companies do not explicitly ban the use of trademarked terms in PPC keyword lists. And why should they? The more keywords they make available for bidding, the more money they make. If you are having an issue with competitor use of your branded terms, you will need to resolve the issue yourself.
If you see your competitors running pay per click ads with your branded terms, the first step you should take is to contact the advertiser directly. That way, you can ensure that your key terms are removed from all advertising campaigns instead of just one PPC account. Be firm, but polite. There is no need to threaten legal action, but you should be clear that if they do not comply to your request you will register a complaint with the PPC advertising services, and their account will be affected. If your request is acknowledged, you may be able to resolve the issue quickly and easily with no need for intervention by the search engines.
However, if the offending competitor chooses to not take down the ads that are in violation, you may need to lodge a trademark complaint with the search engines. While it is not against the rules to bid on a competitor’s trademarked keywords, there are some restrictions on using trademarked terms in text ads. Be aware of this before you lodge a complaint. You can’t stop a competitor from running ads when users search for your branded or trademarked terms, but you might be able to prevent those competitors from using the terms in their text ads.
If you see some text ads running with your branded terms (and reaching out to the advertiser directly doesn’t help), you may need to issue a trademark complaint. This is about as effective as lodging a complaint with any other major company (that is, it’s kind of a crapshoot), but it may be worth your time if you really think that it is negatively affecting your business.
To lodge a trademark complaint with Google, first read their trademark policy here. If you still think that the advertiser is violating Google’s terms, you can send them a complaint by filling out their Trademark Complaint Form. If your complaint is valid, then your brand terms will be added to Google’s blacklisted terms, and future ads containing the keywords will be rejected through Google’s automated editorial process.
For trademark complaints about Yahoo ads, read their editorial guidelines here. If you would like to report a violation, you can send an email to email@example.com. Be sure to include the following information in your email:
- The search term(s) that caused the ad in question to appear.
- The trademark on which your claim is based.
- The registration number of the trademark you own (if it is registered at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office).
- Evidence of consumer confusion arising from the offending ad.
- A copy of any communication you have had with the offending advertiser about the matter.
If you have a complaint about an ad on Bing or another Microsoft network property, you can read their guidelines on intellectual property at this link. To lodge a complaint, you can fill out their trademark complaint form.
Keep in mind that all search engines explicitly state in their terms of service that they are not responsible for mediating trademark disputes. However, if you have a compelling case and the offending advertiser is clearly in the wrong, the search engines can be a great help in standing up for your intellectual property rights. Just be civil, communicate with the advertiser directly first, and use complaint forms as a last resort. As long as you remain respectful in your request, you’ll find that protecting your brand in the PPC marketplace is simple and effective.