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Googling GEICO: The Public Interest in Corporate Free Speech
Winston was surprised to see the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen standing up for the free market. Public Citizen has recently filed an amicus curie brief in support of the defendants in a lawsuit filed by the Government Employees Insurance Company (GEICO) against two major search engine companies, Google and Overture.

In the lawsuit "GEICO is claiming trademark infringement, alleging that the search engine operators violate trademark rights by allowing other insurance companies to advertise to consumers who display an interest in obtaining information relating in some way to GEICO by using the registered trademark "GEICO" as a search term."

The GEICO suit does raise important intellectual property issues that need to be thoroughly ventilated. Public Citizen's view is that "GEICO's assumption that any member of the public using the term ‘GEICO' must be searching for the official company Web site is preposterous." As with any important novel legal issue, the matter will likely be decided through series of lawsuits and appeals and possibly action by Congress and/or federal regulatory agencies.

What Winston finds most significant about the issue is Public Citizen's statement recognizing the importance of free speech rights for commercial entities. As Public Citizen explains, "Although its principal concern is to protect consumers who want to use non-commercial Web sites to speak about corporations, Public Citizen is also interested in protecting the free speech rights of commercial entities, thus enabling companies to make information more available to consumers and increasing consumer choices while fostering competitive pressures that reduce product prices."

Regardless of how the GEICO lawsuit and larger underlying intellectual property rights issue is resolved, Public Citizen has done all consumers a service by highlighting the inherent public interest in protecting the first amendment rights of corporations.

  • Click for Public Citizen Press Release.

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