Google has been going to great lengths to keep advertisers who sell counterfeit goods online out of its AdWords program, but as far as Montblanc, the Germany-based maker of ‘writing instruments’, watches, jewelry and whatnot, is concerned, they ought to be doing more. Montblanc-Simplo GmbH, as the holding is called, is taking Google to court in an effort to obtain the identity of a certain – or more – persistent counterfeit goods seller(s).
TechCrunch has obtained the court documents, which make for an interesting read.
Montblanc says it has received numerous complaints from customers who’ve been misled by keyword ads that appeared on Google.co.uk. According to the complaint, many were tricked into purchasing counterfeit Montblanc products from websites that were specifically designed to look like official Montblanc communication channels.
The luxury goods company subsequently turned to Google UK in an effort to identify the advertisers, who were bidding on keywords like ‘montblanc pens’, but according to the complaint, the search giant’s UK office has consistently said that they simply don’t have access to that kind of information, directing Montblanc instead to the U.S. mothership.
From the court docs:
Montblanc has attempted to determine the identity of the Advertisers through numerous alternative means, with no success. Because the identity of the Advertisers is in the exclusive possession of Google, and Montblanc has no other source from which to obtain the requested information, Montblanc has no choice but to file this Complaint in Equity for a Bill of Discovery in order to enforce its trademark rights.
Once Montblanc has identified the Advertisers through this Bill of Discovery against Google, it intends to file a lawsuit to enforce its trademark rights against the identified Advertisers. Without the requested information, however, Montblanc does not know who the Advertisers are and therefore does not know whom it needs to sue to enforce its trademark rights.
As Montblanc points out in its complaint, it has been using the ‘montblanc’ mark for a wide range of products since its founding in 1906, making it one of the world’s well-known trademarks.
Understandably, the company asserts that the sale of counterfeit goods, bearing the ‘montblanc’ trademarks, has caused it “significant reputational and financial harm”.
For the record, Montblanc acknowledges that Google UK has been responsive to its complaints in discussions dating back to September 2011, and that the search company repeatedly told them that they “removed the offending ads and taking action against the Advertisers”.
The only problem is that they keep coming back, and Montblanc is getting desperate.
From an earlier Google blog post, describing the game of cat and mouse:
AdWords is just a conduit between advertisers and consumers and we can’t know whether any particular item out of the millions advertised is counterfeit or not.
Of course, we do more than simply respond to brand owners’ removal requests. We use their feedback to help us tune a set of sophisticated automated tools, which analyse thousands of signals along every step of the advertising process and help prevent bad ads from ever seeing the light of day. We devote significant engineering and machine resources in order to prevent violations of ads policies, including counterfeiting.
In fact, we invested over $60 million last year alone, and, in the last 6 months of 2010, more than 95% of accounts removed for counterfeits came down based on our own detection efforts. No system is perfect, but brand owner feedback has helped us improve over time – as our system gets more data about ads it has misclassified before, it gets better at counteracting new ways that bad guys try to cloak their behaviour.
While our systems get better over time, counterfeiting remains a complex challenge, and we keep investing in anti-counterfeiting measures. After all, a Google user duped by a fake is far less likely to click on another Google ad in the future. Ads for counterfeits aren’t just bad for the real brand holder – they’re bad for users who can end up unknowingly buying sub-standard products, and they’re bad for Google too.
This makes sense; Google has nothing to gain from counterfeit advertisers in the long term.
In Montblanc’s view, however, Google should be more actively helping them determine the identity of counterfeit advertisers by handing over the contact and financial details they store – due to the nature of the AdWords program – so that the company can name them as defendants in litigation.
We’ll be following this case with eagle eyes.
(Photo courtesy of Luigi Crespo Photography on Flickr)