Business

An Idaho firm is suing a national jewelry giant over an ad atop Google search results

Ring-finger jewelry is a staple of jewelry retailers. An Idaho retailer is suing Zales, a national retailer, over a Zales ad that appeared atop results of a Google search for the Idaho company and included the Idaho company’s name along with Zales.
Ring-finger jewelry is a staple of jewelry retailers. An Idaho retailer is suing Zales, a national retailer, over a Zales ad that appeared atop results of a Google search for the Idaho company and included the Idaho company’s name along with Zales. Minneapolis Star Tribune

Imagine you went to Google and typed in “Pepsi,” and at the top of the search results an ad appeared for Coke, even though the ad’s title included the word Pepsi.

A small Idaho jewelry chain claims that’s what happened right before Black Friday in 2016, when typing in “Jensen Jewelers” brought up an ad for Zales Jewelers, one of the largest jewelers in the United States.

In a lawsuit filed Jan. 17 in U.S. District Court in Boise, Jensen Jewelers of Idaho accuses Zales of misappropriating its name to divert searchers to its own website. The company seeks an order preventing Zales from using its name in the future, along with an amount of money to be determined at trial.

The complaint includes a copy of a Google search that shows a paid ad for Zales at the top of search results for Jensen Jewelers. The heading says “Jensen Jewelers — Black Friday 35% Off Storewide — zales.com.” Customers who clicked on it were taken to a Zales page.

“The defendants used Jensen Jewelers’ name … to advertise, promote, market and offer for sale the types of goods and services provided by Jensen Jewelers without authorization from Jensen Jewelers,” Twin Falls attorney Brandon Berrett wrote in the 10-page complaint.

Jensen Jewelers is headquartered in Twin Falls and has 14 stores in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Nevada, including a store in Nampa. The company, which has been in business for more than 60 years, also sells rings, necklaces and other items online.

Jensen jewelers
A Google word search for “Jensen Jewelers” before Black Friday 2016 returned an ad for the Twin Falls company, but the link went instead to competitor Zales Jewelers. Jensen Jewelers is suing Zales in federal court in Boise. This out-of-focus copy of the ad is included in the lawsuit. Provided by U.S. District Court

Zales operates 751 stores nationwide and has two stores in Idaho, in Boise and Twin Falls. Zales is part of Signet Jewelers, the largest specialty jewelry retailer in the United States, and in 2017 accounted for 20 percent of Signet’s sales. Signet operates nearly 3,000 stores in all 50 states under Zales, Kay, Jared and other brands.

David Bouffard, vice president of Signet corporate affairs in Akron, Ohio, said it is company policy not to comment on legal matters. Google, which is not named as a defendant, did not respond to emails sent to its press office and two executives.

It’s not the first legal case involving allegations that a business manipulated results of online searches for competitors. In 2013, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruled against law firm Habush Habush & Rottier after it sued a competitor that bought Internet search terms including “Habush” and “Rottier.” Internet searchers using those words would then see ads for the competing law firm. There was no accusation that Habush or Rottier appeared in the ad itself, as Zales did in the Jensen Jewelers ad.

Hearings have yet to be scheduled in Jensen’s lawsuit.

John Sowell: 208-377-6423, @JohnWSowell

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