Interflora sues Marks & Spencer over brand bidding

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  • December 11, 2008

According to a report on Interflora is taking legal action against Marks & Spencer for bidding on the keyword “interflora” using Google AdWords.

Just because Google says it’s acceptable to bid on somebody else’s brand name doesn’t mean a court will make the same ruling.

I’ve heard of several companies in a range of industries who are either threatening or being threatened with legal action. Expect companies, agencies and search engines to be watching this very carefully.

The world’s largest flower delivery firm has sued Marks and Spencer at the High Court in London for sponsoring the word ‘Interflora’ as a search engine keyword. The case could be an important test of how UK trade mark laws apply to keyword advertising.

Michigan-based Interflora and its UK trading arm are seeking an unspecified sum of damages and a court injunction to stop M&S bidding on its brand name. Interflora says that the British retailer has taken unfair advantage of Interflora’s brand, in breach of trade mark law.

The lawsuit names Flowers Direct Online as a second defendant. The company, based in Morecambe, England, runs a flower delivery service from

In the lawsuit filed yesterday, M&S and Flowers Direct are accused of bidding for the words ‘Interflora’ and misspellings such as ‘Intaflora’ and ‘Inter-flora’ in Google’s AdWords programme. When users searched for these terms, adverts for M&S and Flowers Direct appeared as ‘sponsored links’.

Interflora’s marketing director, Michael Barringer, said the company’s brand is its most valuable asset.

“The Interflora brand is extremely valuable and we will not tolerate competitors taking advantage of it and infringing our rights,” he said. “Throughout its history, Interflora has been forced to use legal means to prevent infringement of its valuable trade marks.”

“This action represents only the beginning of a broader strategy to defend the Interflora mark against infringers,” said Barringer.

M&S and Flowers Direct appeared to have discontinued their sponsorship of the ‘Interflora’ keywords at the time of writing.

Patrick Altoft

About Patrick Altoft

Patrick is the Director of Strategy at Branded3 and has spent the last 11 years working on the SEO strategies of some of the UK's largest brands. Patrick’s SEO knowledge and experience is highly regarded by many, and he’s regularly invited to speak at the world’s biggest search conferences and events.

  • Sharon

    What will happen to interflora because if you do Marks and Spencer flowers, interflora is on there brand bidding on M&S flowers. Me thinks a bit of publicity stunt too from Interflora and they are getting it. I doubt this will go to court but will see

  • Patrick Altoft

    Sharon I’m pretty sure Interflora is bidding on the term “flowers” as a broad match term rather than “marks & spencer flowers”.

    The exact same ad shows up when you search for “branded3 flowers” and I’m sure they’re not bidding on our brand :)

  • Mike Lopez

    I think Interflora is just over-reacting even if they have legal basis on it. Competition is competition and it’s never kind.

  • Will

    I thought this issue went to court years ago, and Google won. If I’m not mistaken, it went to court in the U.S. It should be interesting to see what the outcome is in the U.K.

    • Patrick Altoft

      Will, nobody is suing Google here. You are right that Google (as an intermediary) has a certain level of protection from legal action but this case isn’t against Google.

  • Adarsh Rangaswamy

    It’s a surprise Google hasn’t been named party to the suit. After all, they facilitate businesses to bid against each other.

    It will be interesting to see what stance the companies take. By bidding on broad match terms, Interflora’s campaign triggers M&S flowers, Flying Flowers and a few other flower sites. Even if we did argue that Interflora’s bidding ‘trademark + keyword’ where as M&S is bidding on the trademark itself, then Interflora looses the plot for bidding on Flying Flowers as they are a registered trademark (2330164) in the UK.

  • Associate Money

    This will be an interesting court case. It is going to set precedents for future brand bidding.

    All is fair in love and war. That applies to business too. Regardless if Interflora win the case or get an out of court settlement, they have already benefitted from lots of free publicity.

  • Will

    “It’s a surprise Google hasn’t been named party to the suit. After all, they facilitate businesses to bid against each other. ”

    I agree; I assumed that they had. This case deserves to be tossed.

  • Send Cakes to Pakistan

    All is fair in love and war. That applies to business as well.Interestingly if Inter flora win the case or get an out of court, they have already beneficent from lots of free publicity.

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