Want to avoid IP infringements? Keep an eye on your keywords and meta tags!
What Are Keywords and Meta Tags
When online users look for information on Google or other search engines, they use “keywords” or “search queries”. These are words or sentences that describe what users are looking for. Obviously, everyone wants their website to rank first on Google for some given “keywords”, and there are several techniques to achieve that. First, you may want to use those keywords repeatedly in your page content. Secondly, you may want to rely on a paid service like Google Adwords: you pay Google to advertise your site and show it on the top of the search engine results, for some precise keywords. Third, you may want to use “meta tags”: instead of placing the keywords in the website content, you disseminate them in your page’s code: they are not visible on the website itself, but they help tell search engines what your website is about.
Let’s say you run a design agency: you can use keywords like “design services”, “logo design services” and so on in your page content, you can pay Google to place an advert for the same keywords, or place meta tags in your page’s html code.
As competition for certain keywords is fierce, some marketers have come up with more refined strategies: a common one is using “long tail”, more specific keywords for which the competition is lower, for instance, “logo design services belgrano buenos aires”.
Some companies had an even better idea: using, as a keyword, the name of their competitors, with the result in mind that people looking for their competitor’s website would see their site first. At first, it might seem like a great idea…
Organización Veraz v. Open Discovery
This is what happened to hundred of users who, in 2007, searched for the business information company, Veraz, on Google Argentina. After typing the word “Veraz” in the browser, the first sponsored result appearing was an ad for…GlobInfo, a service supplied by Open Discovery, a competitor of Veraz.
Veraz claimed and proved that Open Discovery had used the trademark “Veraz” and “Organización Veraz” as keywords when setting up the advertisement on Google.
In one of the first decisions on the matter, and certainly the first in Latin America, the Federal Court of Appeals for Civil and Commercial Matters of Buenos Aires ruled against Open Discovery, establishing that: using keywords that correspond to the competitor’s mark fully infringes its trademark rights, and furthermore, it constitutes unfair competition, because it is likely to cause confusion or misunderstanding about the origin of the services.
The decision was in line with the previous EU Court of Justice in cases C-236/08 to C-238/08 (Louis Vuitton v. Google), where the judges ordered the competing company to cease using the plaintiff’s trademark in the source code of their web page (as meta tags) and as a keyword. More recently, several other courts all over the world have confirmed the same orientation.
Using a competitor’s name as a keyword or meta tags constitute a trademark infringement.
For this reason, you need to make sure that your developer or marketing team uses keywords or meta tags correctly – without relying on appealing but illicit shortcuts!
On the other hand, meta tags and keywords can be considered as part of your trademark portfolio and need to be protected – as much as if they were your company logo or trade name. With a caveat: keywords and meta tags may not be visible, so the analysis of the competitor’s website or marketing strategy must be particularly careful.