French court upholds Louis Vuitton complaint against Google’s Adwords

Internet search-engine firm Google Inc. is considering an appeal of a Paris court order to pay 200,000 euros ($257,350) plus costs to luxury goods maker Louis Vuitton for breach of trademark, The Associated Press reports.

The high court in central Paris awarded the damages in a recent decision and ordered Google to stop displaying advertisements for Vuitton’s rivals whenever Internet users typed Vuitton’s name or other trademarks into the search engine.

“We’re studying the ruling,” Google France spokesperson Myriam Boublil reportedly said yesterday. “No decision’s been taken yet on an appeal.”

The court ruled Google was guilty of false publicity and counterfeiting, upholding complaints by Vuitton that Internet users searching for the Paris-based maker of luxury bags, accessories, and apparel were also shown ads for companies selling forgeries.

The verdict was welcomed yesterday by Vuitton’s parent company, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA, which said Google’s offending “Sponsored Links” had misled consumers.

“Sending Internet users to these other sites made it seem as if their products were Louis Vuitton, when in fact they were fakes,” LVMH spokesperson Olivier Labesse reportedly said.

The ruling is the latest blow by French courts against Google’s Adwords system, which allows companies to buy advertising linked to search keywords—including rivals’ trademarks.

In October 2003, a court fined Google for violating the trademark of an online tour operator—opening the floodgates to a series of other challenges. Google is still appealing that decision and is defending itself against another challenge filed last year by Paris-based AXA SA, the world’s Number 3 insurer. In December, Le Meridien Hotels and Resorts won a ruling against Google as part of its ongoing Adwords lawsuit.

U.S. courts have so far shown more tolerance toward Google’s ad policy. A judge ruled in December that it did not violate federal trademark laws.

But the AP reports that some analysts say the tougher line on trademarks taken by French courts could nevertheless spell trouble for the $1.6 billion paid-search industry—which now accounts for almost one-third of all U.S. online advertising.