Judge Orders Uber to Manipulate Google Search Results

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on February 19, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Google is notoriously secretive regarding its proprietary search algorithms. Uber Technologies is eager to become the most used ride sharing service. And Gainesville, Florida company Uber Promotions just wants to protect its local trademark.

The solution to this legal conundrum? Tell Uber to make sure anyone living in Gainesville and googling "Uber Gainesville phone" gets the phone number for Uber Promotions and not Uber Technologies' local contact number. Wait, what?

In the Matter of Uber v. Uber

This all started when a plucky local limo service sued a billion-dollar behemoth over the local rights to its name. Uber Promotions, Inc. first started using its moniker locally in 2006. And under trademark law, you can gain trademark protection by actual and legitimate use of your mark. When Uber Technologies, Inc. came to Gainesville in 2014, the former asked the latter to refrain from using "Uber Promotions" in its marketing or advertising campaigns. When the latter refused, the former sued.

In fact, Uber Promotions wanted Uber Technologies to change its trademark in the Gainesville market. United States District Judge Mark Walker declined, saying, "a preliminary injunction should not serve as a bazooka in the hands of a squirrel, used to extract from a more fearsome animal a bounty which the squirrel would never be able to gather by his own labors -- at least not when the larger animal is mostly without sin." Aha.

Fix Google, Uber

So, beyond invoking rodents carrying heavy artillery, what did the judge suggest?

"[Uber] must ensure that a search conducted with the Google, Yahoo, or Bing search engine using the keywords "Uber Gainesville phone" or "Uber Gainesville phone number" returns a result containing [Uber]'s 352-area-code number along with words clearly indicating that the result is associated with [Uber]. Such words may include "driver partner," "app," or "ride." [Uber] must ensure that this result, while prominently displayed on the search results page, does not replace the result for [Uber Promotion]'s phone number that is currently returned when a search is conducted using these keywords."

If only it were as easy as telling Google to spit out a certain number in response to a certain search. If that were the case, jockeying for pole position as Google's top results would be a lot more straightforward. (And probably more cutthroat as well.) And if Uber could force Google to spit out certain phone numbers, I'm sure it would assign its own to every search for "taxi," "cab," "limo," or "Lyft."

So can Uber do the impossible? It has already disrupted the ridesharing economy. Maybe it can disrupt Google's algorithms as well.

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