Habush v. Cannon Case: Can You Buy AdWords Keywords With Competitor Names?

Can a law firm use a competing firm’s name as a search engine “keyword” to trigger the display of advertising for itself?

An intermediate Wisconsin appeals court recently held in Habush v. Cannon (and the Wisconsin Supreme Court subsequently denied review) that doing so was legal under state law and didn’t violate either the recognized privacy right against use of a name for advertising or trade purposes or the intellectual property right in the commercial value of a name. 

Will other states agree? Will trademark law or unfair trade practices statutes alter the result in other cases? Time will tell, but clearly this is an issue worth watching.

For a detailed discussion of the case, see “Internet Keyword Advertising: Not a Violation of Right to Publicity,” by John D. Gentry, Wisconsin Lawyer.