Google’s policy change on search results selling fakes is “welcome progress” but company urged to do more | WTR

Google’s policy change on search results selling fakes is “welcome progress” but company urged to do more | WTR

  • Google to allow removal of web pages selling fakes from its organic search results;
  • Trademark owners able to submit takedown requests through content removal form;
  • Incopro CEO welcomes move, but identifies areas where further action is necessary.

Google has changed its complaint form to allow trademark owners or their authorised agents to report (and request the removal of) specific web pages selling counterfeit goods from its organic search results. Although welcoming the move, one industry expert told WTR that there is still more that could be done.

While the Google Ads programme has long prohibited the sale or promotion for sale of counterfeit goods, listings that appear in organic results have proven more problematic. In October 2019 we reported on a study from Incopro which revealed just how often sites selling counterfeits are included in Google search results. The study, “Search engines: Time to step up”, analysed search results across five industries (pharmaceuticals, car parts, children’s products, safety equipment and white goods) and found that up to 60% of product results returned by search engines are for websites and other online locations that offer either counterfeit products or those that otherwise infringe IP rights. Incopro subsequently launched a campaign calling for Google to de-index URLs that offer counterfeit goods and/or direct users to a website dedicated to selling fakes.

This week Google specifically added ‘Counterfeit: sale of counterfeit goods’ as a grounds for complaint in its content removal request form, alongside other causes such as copyright infringement and use of a trademark in a way that is likely to cause confusion. The search engine giant states: “Upon notice, Google will remove web pages selling counterfeit goods from our search results. Counterfeit goods contain a trademark or logo that is identical to or substantially indistinguishable from the trademark of another. They mimic the brand features of the product in an attempt to pass themselves off as a genuine product of the brand owner.”

WTR reached out to Simon Baggs, CEO of Incopro, for his reaction to the development. He stated: “Google has previously said that trademark owners must apply to court to tackle the listing of sites in organic search. Now, Google has shifted and accepted that it will remove individual URLs for counterfeits that infringe trademarks. This is positive progress that will help rights holders protect consumers from unwittingly clicking on links to fakes that are listed in Google searches.”

Of course, the decision making will be all important; trademark owners’ frustration will only rise if legitimate and valid takedown requests are denied. As to how this will work, Search Engine Land’s Barry Schwartz – who first reported the changes this week – was told by the company that the process is, at present, being conducted manually. Once a takedown request is submitted, a Google employee will review it and make a decision on whether to remove the result. In the short term, such a task is likely to prove a burden in terms of employee hours. However, the process will evolve, Schwartz explains: “Over time Google will use these submissions to develop ranking algorithms and systems that will help Google further limit the visibility of sites that are consistently found to be selling counterfeit goods. This will help Google more algorithmically stop counterfeit goods from getting into the Google organic results.”

Although the inclusion of counterfeits in content request forms is a positive development for trademark owners, for Baggs, it should not be the last step taken by the search engine giant.

Google states that the policy “only applies to specific web pages selling counterfeit goods”, leading Baggs to reflect: “There is more that Google can do – many of the websites we are talking about are dedicated to selling fakes. They have no legitimate purpose. It would be far better if the whole site was removed from search results rather than individual web pages for individual products. As such, whilst Incopro welcomes this progress from Google, we will continue to press for more to be done to protect consumers and brands.”

Read the original article in the World Trademark Review

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