Louis Vuitton 1, Google 0
It was just announced that Google lost its keyword infringement case to Louis Vuitton. While the charges filed were for trademark counterfeiting, unfair competition and misleading advertising, it appears that the suit won because the court found that Google was selling the Louis Vuitton trademark to web sites selling counterfeits, misleading consumers, and thereby protection was needed for both consumers and brand owners. In a statement, a Louis Vuitton spokesman said:
"It was absolutely unthinkable that a company like Google be authorized, in the scope of its advertising business, to sell the Louis Vuitton trademark to third parties, specifically to Web sites selling counterfeits...
"...This milestone ruling grants protection for the first time to both consumers and brand owners by finding that Google's Adwords and Premium Sponsorship services as misleading advertising services."
The suit, filed in August 2003, echoes a similar case Google lost to Le Meridien Hotels and Resorts, and covers the use of Louis Vuitton marks in Google sites worldwide. So what is a heavyweight like Google going to do with billions of dollars at stake?
Luxury goods companies are, by nature, intensely private companies, not just in ownership but also in zeitgeist. To maintain their cachet, managers historically needed to 'only' meet the incredibly high standards of their owners. This attitude gave rise to a walled garden mentality among luxury goods makers, enormously different from Silicon Valley thinking.
The attitude of the luxury goods companies, combined with Google's eager insistence, engenders an “us against the world” outlook that in the collective minds in Louis Vuitton, lumps Google in with all of the intellectual property thieves and scofflaws that are destroying their business.
Perhaps a better approach to solving the search industry’s problem with luxury goods is to stop beating them on the head with the AdWords model. Take a month (well before the holidays, of course) and be nice to them. Treat them warmly, send flowers, buy them chocolate. Show Louis Vuitton Malletier the respect they've earned.
Then sit down and talk business. After all, you can't push a rope.