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Guide to Search Engine Trademark Policies

Affiliate Managers, Agencies
When it comes to trademarks, there are three types of uses that brand owners need to watch out for on paid search:
  1. Keyword Sponsors. This is when an unauthorized affiliate sponsors your brand as a keyword so that the affiliate’s ads appear when a user searches for your name or products.
  2. Ad Copy Use. This is when an unauthorized affiliate uses your brand within ad copy text.
  3. Display URL Use. This is when an unauthorized affiliate uses your brand as part of its display URL.

The Search Engine Policies

Google has the most relaxed trademark policy, and it is effective worldwide. Yahoo and Microsoft Ads, you will see, are slightly more restrictive but still reasonably easy to avoid:
  • Google: Keyword sponsors allowed.  Ad copy use allowed, but will respond to complaints if the advertiser is not an authorized reseller or the use is not ‘fair use.’
  • Microsoft Ads: Keyword sponsors allowed. Ad copy use allowed for affiliates, resellers, informational sites, and generic uses.

Do Search Engines Police Trademark Use?

Not really. If you have notified each engine of your trademark, then you can expect the following:
  • Google: When the ad is first created, Google will hold your ad up in editorial if it contains a trademark in the ad copy, but if the user appears reasonable, you will get a pass. Nothing further will be investigated unless you proactively complain. To notify Google, you must first have a legitimate violation.
  • Microsoft Ads: Each will use an editorial person or bot to verify that the mark appears on the landing page if you sponsor a trademarked term. Nothing further will be investigated unless you proactively complain. To notify Microsoft Ads of trademark infringement, fill out their complaint form.

Do the search engine policies allow affiliates to engage in unauthorized use?

The short answer is no. Just because a search engine allows the practice does not mean the law agrees. The key is to rely on something other than the search engine's policy but instead on the land where you engage in business.

What should you do?

Require affiliates to follow your guidelines. Define rules in your affiliate agreement and include a clause to shift liability to the affiliate in case of a lawsuit. Track your affiliate’s activities by monitoring your competitor's trademarks. <