Tuesday 20 March 2018

Google Ireland's application to strike out Ryanair's competition law case rejected

Google in Dublin at the Grand Canal. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Google in Dublin at the Grand Canal. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Tim Healy

An attempt by Google to strike out a competition law claim by Ryanair, brought as part of the airline's action over alleged trademark infringement on the Internet, has been rejected by the Commercial Court.

Mr Justice Brian McGovern rejected an application from Google Ireland and its parent, Google Inc, to strike out an amended part of Ryanair's statement of claim in the case.

Ryanair  launched proceedings last December against Google and "eDreams", a flight and hotel booking website, claiming they are infringing its trademark rights by directing people searching for the airline's flights to the eDreams site.

The airline sought declarations and orders against the internet giant and against Vacaciones eDreams SL, a Barcelona, Spain, based firm which operates the eDreams website.

Ryanair claims when someone searching for its flights enters one or more words on the Google search page, they are directed to the eDreams site and given the mistaken impression they are booking through the Irish airline.

It says this arises out of a form of electronic targeted advertising, called the AdWords programme,  whereby companies pay Google have their listing in a more prominent position than would be obtained through normal "organic or natural" search results.

This, says Ryanair,  infringes its registered trade marks and/or intellectual property rights.

The claims are denied.

Ryanair had amended its statement of claim to include a claim for breach of competition law under the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, and under our 2002 Competition Act.

Google then sought to have that amendment struck out claiming it was indistinguishable from the trademark infringement claim and was parasitic upon that infringement claim.  It was also argued the amendment showed no reasonable cause of action and/or was frivolous/vexatious and/or bound to fail.

Ryanair responded that the competition law issue was a "stand alone claim" which had been sufficiently outlined in the pleadings.

Mr Justice McGovern said the issues raised in the strike out application should be dealt with at the hearing of the main case.  If the judge hearing it finds the competition claim was indistinguishable and parasitic, then the judge could deal with it when awarding costs.

He also did not see that, at this stage, the amended claim matters were bound to fail.

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