Paid advertising in the Apple App Store could lead to search hijacking

Monday, 01 August 2016

Apple has announced that its new iOS 10 operating system will allow developers to pay to promote their apps at the top of relevant search results in the iPhone and iPad app stores. This potentially raises issues for trade mark owners and app developers, who might start seeing searches for their brands hijacked by other apps.

Users testing a beta version of the system have noticed that it allows developers to purchase priority placement against searches for the names of directly competing apps. For example, the following screenshot shows a competing app being promoted upon searching for Overcast, a popular podcasting app.

apps alert

This behaviour is said to be by design, with Apple's Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller saying that this decision was 'hotly-debated', but was arrived at because 'the fact that you can… use someone else's brand in your [keywords]… is more likely to benefit the small developer than the big developer'.

Google famously has had a number of different policies on the use of trade marks as keywords in its similar Adwords service, and the area has drawn the attention of the ACCC and the Courts in the past, as we reported previously.

iOS 10 is currently in beta, and is expected to become available to the general public in September. Once this occurs, brand owners with apps in the App Store might need to monitor search results and potentially outbid competitors to ensure users are not redirected to competitors.

This article was written by Luke Dale and Daniel Kiley.

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Important disclaimer: The material contained in this publication is of a general nature only and is based on the law as at 1 August 2016. It is not, nor is intended to be, legal advice. If you wish to take any action based on the content of this publication we recommend that you seek professional advice.