PARIS — Google Inc. could be held liable under French civil law for allowing advertisers to buy keywords corresponding to registered trademarks such as Louis Vuitton, the French Supreme Court said Tuesday.
The court referred the long-running case to the Paris Court of Appeals to rule on the jurisdiction of French courts and to determine if the online search giant committed any wrongdoing detrimental to the maker of luxury leather goods.
The appeals court is not expected to convene until after the summer vacation period.
LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton said in a statement that it “welcomes” the Supreme Court’s ruling, which it characterized as “in line” with an earlier decision by the European Court of Justice.
Google legal counsel Benjamin Amaudric du Chaffaut said the court backed the search engine’s position “that Google has not infringed trademark law by allowing advertisers to select keywords corresponding to third-party trademarks. We believe this decision is beneficial for users.”
Last March, both LVMH and Google also claimed victory when the European Union high court said Google did not violate trademark laws with its AdWords service, in which companies bid to have “sponsored links” appear alongside Internet search results.
However, the court also said advertisers who buy such key words must make clear where the goods they are selling originate, a partial victory for luxury firms seeking to stamp out counterfeits and protect their brands online.
The principles outlined at Europe’s high court in Luxembourg were to apply to the 27 countries of the European Union. However, recourse in terms of liability was to be “governed by national law” on a case-by-case basis. The European Court has since bounced the case back to France’s highest court.
LVMH said Tuesday the French Supreme Court ruling “helps to clarify the rules applicable to e-commerce in order to ensure greater legal certainty to the benefit of both businesses and consumers operating online.”
Google, owner of the most-used Internet search engine, and LVMH have been fighting in France since 2003 over Internet searches linked to trademark names.
In 2006, the Paris Central Court ordered Google to pay LVMH 300,000 euros, or $443,859 at average exchange rates for the period, for trademark infringement.
LVMH has also been active in protecting its brands on online auction giant eBay.