Saturday, December 11, 2010

Competitive Intelligence For Brand Protection

Protecting your brand online is an ongoing activity. It requires hard work and due diligence. One area of concern is when others bid on your brand, or use your brand name in their ads. The current understanding of Google's policy is that it's OK to bid on a competitive brand name, but it is not OK to use in your ad. Yahoo's policy appears to be a bit stricter, and does allow for the possibility of prohibiting the bidding on a trademarked term.
Finding out who is bidding on your brand may not be hard. You can go to the search engine, type your brand name in, and then see who shows up. This, of course, assumes that they are not geo-targeting their bid to only show up in certain areas (and perhaps not the area you are checking from). This is one of the areas where tools like Hitwise and comScore are useful, as they avoid these types of issues.
It's also interesting to see just how important brand name bidding is to a competitor's business:
You can see from this table that Smart Fares receives 4.78% of it's traffic from the Orbitz brand name. A deeper look shows that brand name bidding is a fundamental part of their business model:
Acting on Infringement
Direct bidding on your brand is not really something you can prevent. However, if your competitor takes the next step and starts using your brand in their ad text, that's another matter. The search engines do provide a way to address that. You can use the following links to find the Google Trademark Complaint Policy and the Yahoo Trademark Complaint Policy. Google also provides an Trademark Complaint Form.
Most of the information you need to provide in the Google complaint form is pretty basic. However, if your trademark is registered, you will need to have the application or registration number which they can use for verification. You can also apply even if all you are doing is claiming use rights. However, this is a bit more difficult to prove, so be prepared for a longer wait on resolution.
Trademarks can also be on a word, design, or both. These are equally protectable. The Google form accommodates up to 10 trademarks, but Google also provides a way to submit more than 10.
Yahoo does not provide a form, but does provide an email address or a mailing address for sending in your complaint. They request information on the search term for which the complaint is related, the trademark info (much the same as Google), registration information if your trademark is registered, any evidence of consumer confusion (hmm - that Hitwise data looks pretty good for providing that), and any information on communications you have had with the advertiser.
Perhaps this goes without saying, but don't go down this path unless you really have a legitimate trademark to protect. Also, this is not an overnight process. It can take several months for you to get resolution. Just be patient. It is well worth it.