Office Depot Sues Staples over Search Ads

(Direct) Office Depot has filed suit against rival Staples for a series of search-engine ads that used as their keyword the name of Office Depot subsidiary Viking Office Products, “The Wall Street Journal” reported Friday.

In the suit, filed this month in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach, FL, Office Depot charges Staples with trademark infringement, unfair competition, false advertising, and deceptive trade practices.

Search engines place paid ads on their results pages that are linked to keywords, the terms searchers type in, and award those slots to the highest-bidding advertisers at auction. The Office Depot suit alleges that Staples and its Quill subsidiary bought the keyword “Viking” to run ads that would lure searchers looking for Viking Office Products. Office Depot is planning to close Viking’s U.S. operations while maintaining its European arm. The complaint contends that Staples and Quill timed their search-ad campaign to take advantage of this transitional phase and acquire some U.S. Viking customers.

Marketers have long objected to the sale of their brand names and trademarks as keywords by the major search engines, and some have gone so far as to sue the engines. For their part, Google and Yahoo! maintain that their policy is not to allow the use of trademarked terms in the titles or creative content of search ads. But they insist they have a right to sell those terms as keywords and to place ads against them, even when those ads might be from a company’s competitors.

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