December 17, 2008
Google's Latest Attempt to Kill the CLRB Hanson Lawsuit Fails
By Eric Goldman
CLRB Hanson Industries, LLC v. Google, Inc., NO. C 05-03649 JW (N.D. Cal. Dec. 16, 2008)
CLRB v. Google is the long-running lawsuit (3 1/2 years and counting) over Google's adherence to advertising limits that advertisers set in Google AdWords. I have blogged on the case several times, including:
* my initial post from August 2005
* the August 2007 determination that advertisers were bound by the AdWords contract
* the May 2008 initial refusal to grant summary judgment to Google
Over the course of the litigation, the court has substantially narrowed the scope of claimants who have a potentially viable claim against Google to just three groups: advertisers of less than 1 month, advertisers who ended their campaign in a partial month, and advertisers who paused their campaign. Seemingly undaunted by the May 2008 ruling denying summary judgment to squash these three groups, Google again sought summary judgment on narrower grounds. Maybe Google thought it had a real chance of winning this second attempt at summary judgment, but it smelled a little "hail mary" to me. Thus, perhaps not surprisingly, Judge Ware rejected the motion and reiterated that summary judgment isn't appropriate (at one point saying, with a hint of frustration, "Defendant appears to be attempting to re-litigate an issue decided in the May 14 Order").
As a result, it appears that at least some aspects of the case appear destined for a trial--which, as far as I can recall, would be the first US trial on Google's AdWords practices. Fortunately for Google, the class is so limited that Google's damages exposure should not break the bank even if it loses badly at trial. Normally cases with light damages would settle, but I suspect the case is still around because the parties can't work out a deal on the attorney's fees--which, if this situation is anything like the click fraud cases, almost certainly will dwarf any actual monetary relief received by the putatively injured advertisers. If the parties can work out the plaintiff attorneys' cut of the spoils, I'm confident this lawsuit will settle before trial.
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