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Thursday, 29 May 2008

It's safer to stick to the Scotch

A discreet little bird with an inquiring mind has emailed this item to the IPKat, who is busily mulling its deeper implications:

"In Scotland, business customers of water services can choose the supplier of some billing and ancillary services (although the water comes from, and sewage goes to, the same old Scottish Water).

If you visit http://www.scotlandontap.gov.uk/ you will see that it seems to be a Scottish Government website that explains the system and lists the current suppliers of services in that market: Aquavitae, Business Stream (part of Scottish Water), Osprey Water (part of Anglian Water) and Satec.

I discovered that site from strange-looking Google Adwords adverts when looking for contact details for one of these companies. It seems that

* if you search for "Aquavitae" your search will generate a scotlandontap.gov.uk advert headed "Aquavitae Water".
* if you search for "Business Stream" your search will generate a scotlandontap.gov.uk advert headed "Business Stream" (sometimes alongside a legitimate Business Stream advert).
* if you search for "Osprey Water" you won't generate a scotlandontap.gov.uk advert.
* if you search for "Satec", you'll generate a scotlandontap.gov.uk advert headed "SATEC".

All these adverts seem to link to the front page of scotlandontap.gov.uk, which is several clicks away from details of any of the suppliers [three clicks, the IPKat thinks], and gives no particular prominence to any supplier.

I am no trade mark expert, but I thought I had vaguely understood Mr Spicy and the change in Google policy on trade mark-triggered adverts, and this seems to fall on the wrong side of them. Google (or the Scottish Government agency which presumably wrote the adverts) is using the trading name of the three companies (at least one of which has applied for trade mark registration: 2471871); and the use made of these names does not seem fair (or whatever the technical term is) given that the purpose is to make the user click on a link to a page which advertises competitors' services as much as the company he was searching for".

The IPKat would not wish to make any profound statement as to what the recent High Court decision in Mr Spicy positively says -- or, rather, denies -- about liability for trade mark infringement (see here for IPKat post on that case), but he's not clear whether the website's use of the trade marks of water services suppliers would be regarded as falling outside the spirit/scope of Google's revised policy anyway, the use in question being done for descriptive and/or informational and not competitive purposes.

Right: "One of Scotland's most famous stretches of water: That's a fine Ness you've got me into ...!"

But Merpel says, that's not the point -- if you see a search result boldly headed "Aquavitae Water", wouldn't you think it was something to do with Aquavitae Water rather than a site that also linked to that company's competitors? And why should I have to end up with Scotland on Tap when all I wanted was a bit of Aquavitae?

Which Kat do you agree with?

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Merpel is right. Okay, the person behind Scotland on Tap is a Government regulator which might be trying to provide information. But that cannot detract from the simple fact that the site contains advertising for water service providers, and that it is misusing (say) Business Stream's name in order to make customers aware of (which is to say, in order to advertise) the other suppliers.

Unless perhaps the three companies involved have (voluntarily and without colluding) agreed to the campaign? Seems unlikely.

Anonymous said...

I agree with merpel too. this sort of third party use may not actually take business away from the companies concerned but makes their trademarks less useful to them. how ironic that it should be the water industry where the effecdt of these adwords is to cause dilution.

GenericIPguy said...

On the subject of scots, there is a recent decision from India on the use of the word 'scot' in "Peter Scot" whiskey.

Take a look at these links:
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Peter_Scot_wont_be_banned_SC/articleshow/3077991.cms

&

http://www.livemint.com/2008/05/28235413/Whisky-win-could-be-offset-by.html

Regards,
GenericIPguy

Anonymous said...

It looks like the powers that be have listened to Merpel. The headline for these ads is now "Compare Water Suppliers".

And Aquavitae is still on the list of suppliers to be compared, despite this seemingly unrebutted news story.

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