There's an increasing body of law dealing with the issue of Adwords. If you're wondering what I'm on about, this refers to the fact that you can - if you're prepared to pay enough money - buy from Google the brand name of your competitor as a so-called 'Adword'. If you do this your advert will pop up on the screen of every person who keys in your competitor's brand name as a search term. The legal issue that arises here is this: are you or Google infringing the competitor's trade mark registration?
Google certainly isn't, because it isn't actually using the trade mark but simply acting as some sort of intermediary. So said Europe's highest court a few years back, in a very important case involving Louis Vuitton, and subsequently in one involving Interflora. And you as the buyer of the Adword aren't either, provided that your ad doesn't cause any consumer confusion, and provided it doesn't lead to the competitor's trade mark becoming generic. In other words, your ad must make it perfectly clear that your product is in no way linked with the product of the competitor.
This same line was followed by a Dutch court recently. The Dutch case involved Philips, which had bought two brand names belonging to a competitor, Tefal and Actifry, and had used these to ensure that people searching these names saw ads for its competing product which is called Airfryer. The court said that by now most people understand how Adwords and pop-up ads work, and that they won't assume any connection provided that the ad doesn't mislead them.
So if you're going to buy a competitor's trade mark as an Adword, do make sure your ad is very clear. And another thing, make sure that it's honest too – in the Philips case the court held that there was no trade mark infringement, but that the ad was still misleading because it exaggerated the product's abilities a tad. The court ordered Philips to put that right.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.