A few weeks ago, I received a notice from Google Legal Support Team that a franchise organization client of ours has Google Ad extensions that violate a trademark.
That notice didn’t ruffle my feathers.
Stuff happens; I’ve been through this cycle before.
As normal and expected, Google is restricting ad impressions for these extensions.
Not that I harbor any mistrust towards Google, but I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years and learned long ago it’s a good policy to trust – but verify.
This isn’t an article about beating trademarks or trademark trolls – it’s about encouraging you to challenge the system.
With some due diligence, patience, and a fair and calm demeanor – ad restrictions and disapproval reversals are possible.
SPOILER: In a weeks-long battle of emails, our appeal was won, and our client is running ads unrestricted. Read on to learn how we did it.
The first thing I did after receiving the initial trademark infringement notice from Google Ads was to review Google’s policy on trademarks. I found this and this helpful.
Then it was off to search the United States Trademark and Patent Office website for the offending term to verify there was indeed a trademark for it – and there was.
To complicate matters, I found there are several term variations and many claimers.
So, I fired off another email to Google Ads asking for clarification as to which organization they are protecting (mind-boggling why they don’t provide that in their initial notice).
After several exchanges, I was furnished an email for a person at Greenpeace with the suggestion to follow up directly with them.
Yup, that Greenpeace. I’ll admit that alone was somewhat intimidating.
Nonetheless, trust – but verify.
Back to https://www.uspto.gov/trademark I went, but this time with details to thin the results and hopefully have something concrete to share with my client to better explain the situation.
Much to my surprise, the USPTO website showed nothing to connect Greenpeace to a trademark with the term my client is being penalized for from Google.
Nothing – as in nada, zip, zilch, zippo, z-e-r-o.
And the email Google gave me, my outreach to that person was returned undeliverable.
During my investigation, here’s what I found…
- There was never a (required) complaint filed from the alleged trademark holder (Greenpeace).
- The trademark, while legitimate, doesn’t belong to Greenpeace as Google stated.
- A trademark doesn’t require registration to be valid (crazy right? Read HERE).
- Google doesn’t follow its policy (surprised?).
- Many of the Googlers engaged were toting the corporate line – lots to say, but little action or actionable statements.
- My client had their ads suppressed for weeks during this appeal process, potentially losing an unknown amount of market share and revenue to their competitors while Google investigated a ghost trademark complaint.
How It Ended
So, at this point, you’re probably wondering how this all ended?
I am jumping in here to offer some additional information and resolution on this case:
Please note that trademark rights in the United States and many other countries may develop based on use of a trademark in commerce; a registration is not required. However, in reviewing the complaint we have on file and the scope of your customer’s business, we’ve determined that the ads in question should not be restricted under our trademark policy. With respect to the trademark complaint at issue, we have taken steps to ensure they are not disapproved currently and will not be disapproved going forward.
Please let us know if you have any further questions.
Google Legal Support Team
This message was received with much respect and appreciation for a job well done by Google’s legal team.
Although undeniably unwarranted, they are not directly responsible for the technology that triggered it.
With hours invested, I’ve learned much about the process, and at the top is a reminder not to be afraid to challenge a challenger. Even if that challenger is Google.
At the other end of the notifications and emails are people who are trained to follow guidelines and may occasionally make mistakes.
But in this case, someone at Google had the courage to escalate my appeal, which resulted in a most favorable outcome.
10 Tips on How to Challenge Google’s Trademark Policy
Here are 10 tips on how to challenge Google’s trademark policy.
- Read this and this before doing anything. Don’t commit to memory, re-read every time in the event there are changes.
- Do not make any changes to whatever is being challenged.
- Use the supplied case number on all correspondence as this allows Google to thread your dialog in their system. For emails, add the case number in the subject and body. It looks like this [Case: 12-345678].
- Request confirmation that an official complaint has been filed for improper trademark usage.
- Identify the trademark holder company and request a contact.
- Verify the trademark yourself HERE.
- Have patience, be fair, and be kind. Remember that you aren’t communicating with a computer, there’s a person at the end of each notice and email.
- Be factual and hold your emotions for the gym.
- Support your statements with something actionable or that could be independently quantified, like a link, screenshot, or document.
- Include your client in the exchanges. I’m not sure how much value this brings to Google, but your clients will no doubt appreciate your efforts.
As any appeal or contest, study up, and present facts. Conduct independent research and share it collaboratively.
Take a teamwork approach to the process and treat everyone as a team-player in helping you find an amicable solution for your mutual client.
But most importantly, go with your gut, and advocate for your work (and your clients’ good name); and remember to trust – but verify.
While my (current) challenge is resolved, I can’t think but wonder; in the absence of a trademark complaint, what triggered this episode in the first place?
I’ve been through several trademark challenges, but this is the first I’ve encountered as a self-starter on Google’s end. Has Google begun to troll trademarks?
Have you gone through something similar? I’d love to hear and learn what your experience been – comments welcome.