*Defeat For Google – Victory For TM-owners? Austrian OGH First National Court To Decide On Keyword Advertising: OGH 21.06.2010, 17 Ob 3/10f, Bergspechte

The Austrian Supreme (OGH) court ruled on the 21st of June 2010 in 17 Ob 3/10f BergSpechte, that even ads that don’t contain the third party trademark may lead to a likelihood of confusion. As a result the advertiser violated § 10 (1) Z 2 MSchG (= Art 5 (1) lit b ECD = § 14 (2) Z 2 dMSchG). To my knowledge the Austrian court is the first national court to render a decision based on the ECJ’s keyword advertising decisions.

The court based its reasoning on the fact that the advertiser had failed to rule out any likelihood of confusion by adding ‘appropriate clarifying indications‘. The (Display-)URL shown below the ad of the defendant (‘www.trekking.at‘) was however the decisive issue in the case as the court found that this (generic) URL would make it ‘appear more likely for an internet-users to assume that a connection between the ad and the TM-owner or a entity economically connected to the TM-owner exists, as both search terms used (‘Edi Koblmüller‘, ‘Bergspechte‘) were highly original and did not at all describe the services advertised. As a consequence the court ruled that a likelihood of confusion existed.

As the decision only deals with the admissibility of an interim injunction the attorney of the defendant, RA Dr. Michael Wukoschitz,  has called the ruling a Pyrrhic-victory as the defendant was not generally forbidden to use the TM of the claimant but only forbidden to use it in a misleading way. As the court has found that the ads in question (please see illustration/image below) are deemed to be misleading this might only be a small comfort. Taking into account that the OGH’s decision might have been a different one if the claimant had used a non-generic but very distinctive URL, it remains to see how the OGH will decide in such a case.


Discussion:

The decision itself is quite surprising, especially in the light of Google’s recent policy reform and the fact that the German Supreme Court (BGH) found that it would be ‘far fetched’ to assume that users would establish a connection between their search queries and the ads displayed (para 19 BGH, I ZR 125/07, Bananabay, GRUR 2009, 498).

Looking at the decision itself, it soon becomes obvious that it comes from the same judge who has already made an unfortunate ruling in the Wein&Co case, which was equally questionable. What especially strikes me is the how easily the court established a likelihood of confusion. This is especially so as the ads were aiming at mainly young people who plan to travel the world ‘off the beaten tracks‘ and I do think it is questionable that someone who is planning to cycle through Ethiopia on his bike won’t pay a bit more attention to the search results when preparing the trip. But well, it still seems that the Austrian Supreme court sticks to an average Austrian internet user who is probably best described as fairly internet-illiterate or at least far from being web-savvy.

Furthermore I wonder what an ad would need to look like not to confuse and average Austrian internet user. What is the advertiser does not have a (distinctive) domain which clearly indicated him/her as being a separate entity and moreover, not economically connected to the TM-owner? So it might be a good thing that the OGH considered the Display-URL but its conclusion somehow fail to convince. Should the Display-URL be really the decisive factor? What about all the happy second-domain-owners which own e.g the much sought-after domains www.laws.at, www.sarcasm.at, http://www.bike.co.uk or other generic terms. Should they be disadvantaged when using keyword advertising?

I think the decision still has got its flaws and is based on an internet-illiterate user, but on the positive side, for once the court was forced by the ECJ to at least finally get the separation between the search results and the ads right (para 1). That’ at least some progress! The second positive issue is that the court declined the plaintiffs claim to generally forbid the plaintiff to use its trademark. So yes, the use of third party TM as keywords is also allowed in Austria, only problem, nobody can tell advertisers under which conditions….


What did the ad look like:

The original Side-Ad looked roughly looked like that (reconstruction by Austrotrabant):

Rough translation of the text of the ad by Austrotrabant:

Ethiopia per bike
trip of a lifetime through the north with
lots of culture. Sixteen days from 20.10.
http://www.trekking.at

English translation by Austrotrabant:

10 …In none of the two ads it has been put straight through appropriate indications, that no economical connection between the plaintiff and the defendant exists. In both cases only the Internet-address of the defendant was supplied (http://www.trekking.at), which because of the generic term used, lead to no attribution to a particular entity. Both offers [ads] concerned outdoor-tours, as also offered by the plaintiff

11 For a normally informed and reasonably attentive internet user it was thus not cognizable that the ads [ads] stem from an entity which is not economically connected with the plaintiff. It appeared more likely [ … es lag vielmehr nahe  zu vermuten … ] to assume the opposite as both search terms showed a high degree of originality and not even vaguely describe the services offered [advertised]


German version:

10. Im vorliegenden Fall geht es um zwei Anzeigen, von denen eine bei Eingabe des Suchwortes “Eid Koblmüller” aufgerufen wurde, die andere bei Eingabe von “Bergspechte”. In beiden Anzeigen wird für Reisen geworben (“Trekking- und Naturreisen zu den letzten Berggorillas oder Wandern auf alten Pilgerrouten”, “Äthiopien mit dem Bike, Traumreise durch den Norden mit viel Kultur, 16 Tage, ab 20.10.”). In keiner der beiden Anzeigen wurde durch einen entsprechenden Hinweis klargestellt, dass keine wirtschaftliche Verbindung zwischen der Klägerin und der Zweitbeklagten besteht. Angegeben waren jeweils nur die die Internetadresse der Zweitbeklagten (http://www.trekking.at), die aufgrund des verwendeten Gattungsbegriffes keine Zuordnung zu einem bestimmten Unternehmen erkennen lässt. Gegenstand des Angebots waren jeweils Outdoor-Reisen, wie sie auch die Klägerin anbietet.


11. Für einen normal informierten und angemessen aufmerksamen Internetbenutzer war damit nicht zu erkennen, dass die Anzeige von einem Anbieter stammen, der mit der Klägerin in keiner Weise wirtschaftlich verbunden ist. Es lag für ihn vielmehr nahe, das Gegenteil zu vermuten, weil beide Suchworte ein hohes Maß an Originalität aufweisen und die angebotenen Dienstleistungen nicht einmal ansatzweise beschreiben.

12. Der normal informierte und angemessen aufmerksame Internetnutzer konnte daher annehmen, durch Anklicken der jeweiligen Überschriften auf Seiten zu gelangen, die, wenn nicht von der Klägerin, so doch von einem ihr wirtschaftlich verbundenen Unternehmen betrieben werden. Der dadurch begründeten Verwechslungsgefahr hätten die Beklagten durch entsprechende Gestaltung der Anzeigen, wie etwa durch Aufnahme eines aufklärenden Hinweises, entgegenwirken müssen (s Anderl, Anm zu C-278/08 – Bergspechte II, ecolex 2010, 477f; Stadler, EuGH: Google verletzt mit AdWords keine Markenrechte, MMR Fokus, MMR 5/2010, VIII).

13. Als Zwischenergebnis ist daher festzuhalten, dass die durch die Verwendung einer Marke (eines Markenbestandteiles) als Keyword generierte Werbung eines Dritten (der Beklagten) in die Recht des Markeninhabers nur dann nicht eingreift, wenn aus dieser Werbung für einen normal informierten und angemessen aufmerksamen Internetnutzer leicht zu erkennen ist, dass die in der Anzeige beworbenen Waren oder Dienstleistungen weder vom Inhaber der Marke noch von einem mit ihm wirtschaftlich verbundenen Unternehmen stammen.

(emphasis added by Austotrabant)


[Word game?: the BGH used the expression ‘far fetched’ (fern liegend) while the Austrian court used exactly the opposite version of the expression “close guess” (nahe liegend). Coincidence?]


UPDATE (22.08.2010): The Austrian court has published the decision. I placed a link to the document at the beginning of this post.

7 Responses to “*Defeat For Google – Victory For TM-owners? Austrian OGH First National Court To Decide On Keyword Advertising: OGH 21.06.2010, 17 Ob 3/10f, Bergspechte”


  1. 1 Ben Farrand 17/08/2010 at 11:45

    Is this a big victory? I guess I have to wait for the English translation, but does it in any way impose liability on Google with this decision? The way I’d see it is that in the absence of a third party mark, the ad would more likely constitute passing off by an entity which would be harder for Google to identify, and secondly, would seem to go beyond the remit of trademark law. Furtheremore, did the Austrian courts make any attempt to perform a consumer survey in order to identify the likelihood of confusion, or make reference to one? It seems a little unrealistic for a court to be able to adequately determine consumer confusion without referring to actual confusion by consumers, unless the ad was so misleading there could be no other outcome – again, unlikely, based on the complete absence of any infringing trademark.

    Nevertheless, I’m more of a copyright and patents guy, so I could be wrong. What is your take on this?

    • 2 austrotrabant 17/08/2010 at 13:12

      Well, it is for sure quite a blow for Google as they seemed extremly self-confident during the last couple of weeks. And no, no liability for Google, but even worse, for their cash-cows; their advertiser.

      Interestingly enough the court didn’t mention any passing off etc but just stated that a likeliness of confusion exists. One way or another it has to be said that the Austrian OGH, during the last couple of years has been extremly restrictive towards keyword advertising and I am quite optimistic that other courts (BGH) will decide differently.

  2. 3 Martin Husovec 03/09/2010 at 19:04

    Great work Max, though I don’t like decision itself. In my understanding Google France has clearly lowered threshold of infringement from likelihood of confusion (direct or indirect) to ambiguity (advertisement does not enable an average internet user, or enables that user only with difficulty, to ascertain whether the goods or services referred to therein originate from the proprietor of the trade mark or an undertaking economically connected to it or, on the contrary, originate from a third party. ). And this is even more absurd example of applying ambiguity standard.

    Martin


  1. 1 *Where To Draw The Line? The Main Question Left After Google France « Austrotrabant's Blog Trackback on 04/11/2010 at 13:57
  2. 2 *Google Slightly Changes Layout of Top-Ads – Further Blurring The Line Between Ads and Search Results? « Austrotrabant's Blog Trackback on 07/02/2011 at 09:03
  3. 3 *ECJ Wintersteiger C-523/10: A Forum Shopping (Winter) Wonderland? « Austrotrabant's Blog Trackback on 22/04/2012 at 10:10
  4. 4 BGH: MOST-Pralinen; German Supreme Court remains liberal on Keyword Advertising & contradicts Austrian and French Supreme Courts « Austrotrabant's Blog Trackback on 17/12/2012 at 08:02

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