SALT LAKE CITY — Google Inc. is objecting to a Utah law that limits the common practice of keyword-triggered advertising, where competitors can show their ads alongside a search query or with a news story on another brand.
The measure was approved by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and a unanimous Legislature with little notice or fanfare despite warnings from state lawyers that it offered a "high probability" of being overturned in court.
Aides to the governor said nobody protested before Huntsman signed the law March 19.
For a fee in North America, Google and other websites charge rivals to work off a company's name to make their advertising appear when people type a search query on a company or product.
Consumers might wonder what the fuss is all about. But House Majority Leader David Clark likened the deed to diverting a shopper who enters a particular department store to buy a dress shirt.
"You get right to the front door and somebody whisks you away to a different store," Clark said.
Google, other search leaders and trademark experts are taking notice of Utah's latest grand experiment in trying to control the global Internet. An earlier law to ban advertising spyware was knocked down in the federal courts. Only the federal government can regulate interstate commerce.
"We were all blindsided by it," said Eric Goldman, a law professor in Santa Clara, Calif., who specializes in Internet regulation and trademarks. "Everyone's kind of shell-shocked, and it's just leaking out slowly."
Utah's innocently named Trademark Protection Act is set to take effect June 30.
The law is deeply flawed, said Corynne McSherry, an attorney for the San Francisco-based public interest group Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Consumers also have an interest here. This isn't just harmful to Google. It's harmful to consumers who benefit from comparative advertising," she said.
On the Internet, "all major ad platforms work this way," said Andrew McLaughlin, Google's director of public policy and government affairs. He acknowledged courts outside of North America had forced Google to adopt stricter trademark policing.