Have you ever typed a phrase into the Google search engine and seen various link under the heading “Sponsor results”? Have you ever wondered how that works?
Well, if you have, let me enlighten you. Google will sell you keywords. Just about any keyword as it happens. So, for example, you might be able to buy the keyword “Xerox” even though you are not the Xerox corporation. But if you are a company that sells photocopiers, what a boon to your business if your company name/link appears right at the top of the search results page when someone does a search for “Xerox”!
Of course Xerox would not be all that happy with you and might take a shot at litigating the matter. Depending on where in the world you live, such litigation might or might not be successful. So far in Canada the issue has not been addressed. In the USA there have been mixed results and in Europe the results tend to favour the companies which own the trade-marks and sue the companies which bought the keywords.
The issue here relates to trade-marks. Xerox corporation owns trade-marks relating to the name “Xerox”. So, no one else can use the name “Xerox” in association with photocopiers (among other goods and services). So, by extension why should anyone else be allowed to profit form the name “Xerox” by buying that keyword.
Unfortunately trade-mark law does not easily lend itself to solving the issue but it will, either by virtue of legal decisions or by virtue of amendments to the law. However, for the time being, you should watch out for this if you are a business and you have a valuable brand name. Someone else (ie. your competitors) could be using the name in the sense that they have purchased its use from Google.
On the other side of the coin, if you feel that the risk is worth it, you may wish to consider buying such keywords. It is certainly a risk/reward decision and not a decision which is to be taken hastily. I certainly would not recommend it but then again I am risk averse when it comes to these things.
Food for thought.