On Ravelry today, I stumbled across a forum thread discussing a recently filed lawsuit between Cascade Yarns and KnitPicks. (Full suit information here).
I won’t lie to you. I skimmed the forum posts and clicked through to the lawsuit, assuming it related to KnitPicks’ reputation for ‘knocking off’ designer yarns at lower prices. (Ironically enough, some might say the same about Cascade.) Cascade and KnitPicks have also been at odds for some time, with at least one previous trademark related lawsuit which was dismissed when KP voluntarily changed the name of the offending product.
This one is something new. It specifically relates to one business booking a sponsored ad for a competitor’s keyword, something that the business has never – and likely will never – carry.
In this case, Cascade’s suit is based on Knit Picks sponsored ads appearing for web searches of trademarked terms, “Cascade”, “Cascade 220″, “Cascade Yarns”.
I doubt this practice will benefit KP in the long run. There’s little more frustrating to a possible consumer than clicking through an ad to see no evidence of what was sought. For me, at least, it would devalue my opinion of the brand, and I’d be even less likely to click on future ads from the business, believing them to be a waste of time.
Whether or not it’s ethical, should it be legal?
Techcrunch has an article about a larger Google AdWords lawsuit. Rescuecom vs. Google complained of exactly this practice of selling ads on trademarked keywords to competitors. A final decision has not been reached, and the case is likely to go to trial unless there’s an out of court settlement.
More than anything, I think the results of these lawsuits (and probably countless similar ones) could change the way we think about search engine use, both as consumers and as web developers. And does the responsibility lie with the search engine to police their paid advertising links? Or with the advertisers themselves to “play fair”? Or, is it simply Cascade’s fault for not buying the keywords already?
I’m trying to think of a scenario in the non-webby world where using a competitor’s trademark would be ok. There really are few ‘keywords’ in real life. And the law seems pretty clear that one can’t use the word “Kleenex” to advertise facial tissue not made by Kimberly-Clark. Likewise, you’re not generally allowed to operate a business under a name that could be confused with a trademark holder in the same line of work. KnitPicks went after KPixie (formerly KnitPixie) for the same thing several years ago.
What do you think? Should it be legal to buy paid ads on a competitor’s keywords or SEO your site for a competitor’s product?