In the midst of the global pandemic, Google has provided some welcome news in the ongoing fight against counterfeiters.
Google recently updated its legal complaint system to allow trademark owners to report webpages that sell or promote the sale of counterfeit goods, and has committed to removing the webpages from the search engine’s organic (non-advertisement) results.
Google has long prohibited ads that promote the sale of counterfeit goods and has provided a complaint system to report violations.
However, Google has historically refused to remove organic search results without a court order. This allowed links to counterfeit sellers to persist in organic search results. A 2019 study by Incopro that analysed search results across five industries—pharmaceuticals, car parts, children’s products, white goods, and safety equipment—concluded that up to 60% of results returned by search engines led to sites that sold counterfeits or otherwise infringed on IP rights. For some sites selling knock offs, organic search results provided the majority of their web traffic.
Google has now added ‘Counterfeit: sale of counterfeit goods’ as a grounds to submit a removal request. The company describes counterfeit goods as those that
… 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.
However, the submission process has limitations.
Only an owner of an affected trademark, or their authorized agents, can submit a removal request. The new measure also only applies to the sale of counterfeits, and not other forms of trademark infringement.
Perhaps most importantly, the removal process is non-algorithmic: requests must be manually submitted and Google employees must review the impugned webpages before removal. Only the specific webpage reported—as opposed to an entire website—will be de-indexed if it is determined to be facilitating the sale of counterfeit goods.
It remains to be seen how quickly and effectively this measure will de-index sites. In the long term, we hope that Google will use the data it gains to develop algorithms to identify and remove links to sites that consistently sell counterfeits. This should, in turn, lower the rankings of such websites, further reducing their accessibility to the average user. Google already uses a similar approach to lower the search rankings of websites that have been the subject of multiple DMCA take down requests, so it is the obvious natural progression.
Nonetheless, Google’s move to address organic listings is a step forward for those engaged in the battle against counterfeiters, and for consumers.
* Thanks to Kevin Bushell for the assistance in preparing this summary.