Pick your metaphor: whack-a-mole, wild goose chase, drops in the ocean. Google’s Kent Walker, senior vice president and general counsel, prefers cartoon critters. “It’s a cat-and-mouse game,” he says, “where we are constantly working to improve our practices and tune our systems to keep out the bad guys.” Walker is talking, of course, about Google’s anti-counterfeiting initiative, which just got a little better.

Over one million advertisers use Google’s AdWords programme, controversial among trademark circles for allowing competitors to monetise each others’ marks. But even Google’s biggest critics can’t argue with the fact that the search engine took down 50,000 AdWords accounts last year for advertising counterfeit goods. And now Walker has announced three improvements designed to “improve our collaboration with brand owners to address the problem and prevent counterfeiters from abusing our services”. Google says:

We’ll act on reliable AdWords counterfeit complaints within 24 hours. In 2009, we announced a new complaint form to make it fast and easy for brand owners to notify us of misuse. For brand owners who use this form responsibly, we’ll reduce our average response time to 24 hours or less.

We will improve our AdSense anti-counterfeit reviews. We have always prohibited our AdSense partners from placing Google ads on sites that include or link to sales of counterfeit goods. We will work more closely with brand owners to identify infringers and, when appropriate, expel them from the AdSense programme.

We’ve introduced a new help centre page for reporting counterfeits. That way, we aim to make it easier for users and brand owners to find forms to report abuse.

The move was welcomed by the International Anti-counterfeiting Coalition (IACC), which has spent years lobbying internet service providers to do more to prevent the sale of fakes. “We're certainly pleased with Google's acknowledgment of their role in ensuring that the services they provide are not misused to facilitate illegal activity, and their recognition that working in cooperation with rights holders to more efficiently address the trafficking of counterfeit goods is a necessary part of addressing this large and growing problem,” said Travis Johnson, the IACC’s director of legislative affairs and policy.

It seems that both Google and brand owners’ associations go out of their way to reiterate the fact of their collaboration. However, between the lines of Google’s careful statements, one could read that it expects brand owners to do more. The search engine trumpets its $60 million investment in anti-counterfeiting in one year alone, and notes that, in the second half of 2010, “more than 95% of accounts removed for counterfeits came down based on our own detection efforts” – that is, not those brought to Google’s attention by brand owners. That’s a hair-raising number: it shows the great extent to which brand owners are yet to engage in this one branch of anti-counterfeiting.

Perhaps these changes to the system, especially the improvements to the complaints procedure and Google’s new, 24-hour deadline will encourage greater participation. That certainly seems to be what both partners, Google and brand owners, want. Says Johnson: “We look forward to learning more about the details of the newly adopted procedures and their practical implications for rights holders.”

Comments

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RE: Google cranks up the anti-counterfeiting gears, aims for allied fight

Good question, Gareth. But 95% is not 100%, so parties other than Google must have noticed some infringing ads, meaning that some ads were live. I would assume that Google's 95% figure comprises both categories of cases you mention, so it would indeed be useful to see the breakdown. I'll enquire with Google and report back should the company respond.

Adam Smith, World Trademark Review on 21 Mar 2011 @ 14:53

RE: Google cranks up the anti-counterfeiting gears, aims for allied fight

It would be interesting to know at what stage of the process the accounts were removed, e.g. was it once the offending ads had already been displayed, or only after they had been created but before they were ever publicly visible (i.e. when only Google could have had knowledge of the alleged impropriety by the account holder)? Is there any information on this?

Gareth Dickson, Edwards Wildman Palmer UK LLP on 21 Mar 2011 @ 14:48

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