How to Challenge Google Ads Trademark Disputes

Author Chris Sheehy – for Search Engine Journal – first published January 8, 2020

Iconography depicting google ads - formally known as google adwords

With some due diligence, patience, and a fair and calm demeanor – Google Ads restrictions and disapproval reversals are possible. Here’s how we did it.

A few weeks ago, I received a notice from the 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 Dispute

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 to 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 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?

Hello Chris,

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.