The plaintiff in Jurin v. Google Inc. sells building materials to contractors and homeowners. Plaintiff sells the materials under its ”StyroTrim” trademark. The plaintiff was upset to learn that Google’s AdWords program had “suggested” StyroTrim as a keyword. Competitors allegedly bid on the term and then appeared in the “sponsored links” accompanying searches for StyroTrim — sometimes in a higher “position” than Jurin’s company. Plaintiff alleged Google’s AdWords infringed the StyroTrim trademark and constituted false advertising under the Lanham Act. Plaintiff also alleged the AdWords “sponsored links” constituted a “false designation of [the] origin [of Styrotrim materials]” under that act. Finally, plaintiff claimed Google had negligently and intentionally interfered with plaintiff’s contractual relations with its customers. Google moved to dismiss these claims.
The court found for Google. It held that the plaintiff had not properly pleaded a “false designation of origin” claim. A false designation of origin claim, wrote the court, requires that the defendant “falsely represented that it was the ‘source’ of the goods when it was not.” But here, Google had in no way represented itself as the producer of StyroTrim products.
Next, the court dismissed plaintiff’s false advertising claim. To advance a false advertising claim under the Lanham Act, plaintiff had to allege ”a commercial injury based upon a misrepresentation…”; and that the injury is competitive….” Because Jurin and Google were not direct competitors, and Google “does not directly sell, produce, or otherwise compete in the building material market,” the court dismissed plaintiff’s false advertising claim.
Finally, the court dismissed the negligent and intentional interference with contractual relations claims. The court found that Google enjoyed immunity from these claims under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. In other words, wrote the court, Google was a protected interactive computer service of the type the CDA was designed to protect. By suggesting keywords, The AdWords program “merely helps third parties to refine their content,” according to the opinion. The program did not render Google an “information content provider” such as to be outside the scope of CDA immunity.
As Professor Eric Goldman reports on his technology blog, this is not the first time Google has been sued (including by Jurin) for allegedly facilitating trademark infringement.
Jurin v. Google Inc., 2010 WL 727226 (E.D. Cal., Mar. 1, 2010)