Office Depot, the office supply giant, has filed a lawsuit against arch rival Staples in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach, Florida. Office Depot’s complaint alleges that Staples has engaged in trademark infringement, unfair competition, false advertising, and deceptive trade practices by buying VIKING, a trademark owned by one of Office Depot’s subsidiaries, as an advertising keyword from Google. Google has successfully defended its right to use third party trademarks in its keyword advertising program in a number of recent suits, including the recent GEICO v. Google case that we first discussed here, and reported settled here, but this is the first time that a trademark owner has bypassed Google and gone directly after the company actually buying the keywords.
Assuming this case doesn’t settle, we expect that Staples ultimately will prevail, as keyword advertising on the Internet these days is analogous to the completely legal practice of Burger King putting up a billboard next to a McDonald’s in the brick-and-mortar world. However, at the present time a search of VIKING does not return a paid advertisement for Staples, suggesting that Staples may be negotiating a settlement with Office Depot, or is attempting to mitigate future damages.