Google in the dock

The BBC reports that the company that make Louis Vuitton luggage and other luxury branded goods, LVMH, is taking its case against Google to the European Court of Justice of Luxembourg today.

Louis Vuitton argues that Google Adwords offers advertisers the chance to bid on terms like Louis Vuitton fakes and Louis Vuitton replicas, but claims that Google does not have the right to offer their trademarked name as part of its search advertising program, and certainly not to make money out of it.

Adwords works by allowing advertisers to bid for such search-related keywords, including common branded and trademarked terms, so an search for Louis Vuitton could spark lots of ads for rival luggage brands.

The legal wrangle between the two is long running. LMVH first sued Google back in 2004. In 2005, The Paris District Court sanctioned Google and its French subsidiary from selling search-related advertisements against trademarks owned by the luxury fashion designer. The court charged Google with trademark counterfeiting, unfair competition and misleading advertising. Google was ordered to pay €200,000).

The current court case is rather more serious and could have implications for the deployment of Google's Adwords business model right across the European Union. As one pundit noted, European courts tend to be sympathetic to the rights of trademark and brand owners.

"¢ Google is under fire concerning its use of search to make money on another front too. Last week it said like Yahoo and AOL, it would tailor web adverts to users' preferences, gleaned from their browsing. Advertisers rejoiced, privacy and civil rights groups bridled.

The main reason is because Google would achieve this by parking cookies on users' desktops to do the tracking and report back to HQ so that appropriate advertising could be displayed. While Google does give people the option to opt out, it is never made clear to them they are participating in the first place. Having to get users to opt in would afford consumers greater protection.

The other great fear is, of course, that all that intimate information on someone's preferences and spending habits is always open to abuse. And given the almost weekly alarmist stories about security breaches, memory sticks left on buses and people's details being accidentally made public, no wonder the privacy lobby is truly alarmed.