The three-judge panel reversed a lower court's dismissal of Rescuecom v. Google, 06-4881, in which computer-repair company Rescuecom had claimed that users could be confused by links to competitors' ads that appear alongside Google search results for the company's trademarked name.
Google had persuaded the lower court to toss the case, arguing that its use of Rescuecom's trademark was internal and not a "use in commerce," which constitutes trademark infringement. The dismissal was hailed as a big victory for Google and other search engines, for which keyword advertising is a lucrative business.
The appeals court ruled Friday that "Google's recommendation and sale of Rescuecom's mark to its advertising customers are not internal uses," sending the case back to the trial court. IP lawyers had been anticipating the decision because of mixed rulings on keyword cases.
In dismissing the case, the lower court had relied on 2nd Circuit precedent in the watershed case of 1-800 Contacts v. WhenU.com., which found that 1-800-Contacts didn't have its trademark infringed by keyword advertising sales. In Friday's ruling, the 2nd Circuit expended considerable effort explaining how the Rescuecom case is different. The 2nd Circuit decision doesn't offer that many answers about the legality of keyword advertising. Rescuecom and others will still have to prove their trademarks were infringed in the end.