Judge rejects Google bid to strike out amended Ryanair claim

Airline is suing internet search engine over advertising by online travel agent eDreams

Ryanair: moving closer to a full trial in case against Google and eDreams. Photograph: Getty Images

Ryanair: moving closer to a full trial in case against Google and eDreams. Photograph: Getty Images

 

A full hearing of Ryanair’s case against internet giant Google and online travel agent eDreams moved a step closer on Thursday after the Commercial Court rejected a bid to have part of the claim struck out.

Ryanair is suing Google and eDreams, claiming that the internet company facilitated the online travel agent in selling seats on the airline’s flights, even though the carrier has no commercial agreement with the website operator. The Irish company says that this infringes it trademark rights.

Mr Justice Brian McGovern rejected an application to the Commercial Court by Google and its parent, Google Inc, to strike out an amended part of Ryanair’s initial claim at a hearing on Thursday.

Ryanair amended its original trademark case to include a claim that Google’s agreement with eDreams was an abuse of the multinational’s dominant position in the internet search and advertising markets. This would be a breach of competition law.

Google attempted to get this element of the case struck out. Its lawyers argued that as the case centred on the use of Ryanair’s trademark, which the airline owned exclusively, this could not give rise to any competition law issues.

Complex issues

Justice McGovern ruled that the hearing raised “complex and difficult issues of law” that would be more appropriately dealt with at a full trial. As a result, he struck out the motion.

The airline welcomed the court’s ruling.

“The case will now continue in the Commercial Court, where Ryanair believes Google will be forced to stop allowing its advertisers to mislead unsuspecting customers on the Google search feature, in order to boost Google’ advertising revenues,” it said.

Ryanair argues that Google is directing customers to eDreams, whose website, the carrier says, is laid out to resemble Ryanair’s. As a result, it says, consumers buy flights from eDreams believing that they are purchasing them from Ryanair, and have to pay hidden fees and charges.

It says that Google facilitates this through its AdWords programme, which gives links to advertisers’ companies a more prominent position on its search results.

In its statement of claim, Ryanair argues that the purpose of the agreement between Google and eDreams is to “deceptively divert consumers who seek to book flights on the website on to the eDreams website in order to generate revenue both for eDreams and Google”.

Repeated examples

The airline said in its statement on Thursday that despite repeated examples of “customer rip-offs, Google refused to require eDreams to advertise transparently and honestly.”

A Google spokeswoman said that while the company did not comment on litigation, it worked hard to make sure all its ads were helpful and welcome and would “keep fighting to make that a reality”.

An eDreams spokeswoman argued that its customers wanted the best deals and most convenient combination of flights, which airline sites such as Ryanair’s can’t provide.

“What Ryanair don’t say is that we clearly display all available flight options from all airlines on our landing pages, no matter how they arrived at our site,” she said. “In fact, one in four customers coming to the site looking for Ryanair flights end up booking a flight with a different airline altogether.”

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