The Laugh Test

September 22, 2008

[Update: decision denying Blockshopper’s Motion to Dismiss] [Update: Jones Days’ Opposition to Blockshopper’s Motion to Dismiss] is one of many small web sites that have sprung up to follow local residential real estate markets. So far, the site highlights purchases in upscale neighborhoods in Chicago, St. Louis, South Florida and Las Vegas. The site identifies purchasers by name, street address of the property and the price paid. Of course, this information is available in local real estate publications (like Banker & Tradesman here in Boston) or at the local registry of deeds. Blockshopper also performs an Internet search on the person, and based on what it finds identifies the purchaser’s job title and employer. When it can, the site pulls a photo of the person from somewhere on the Internet (like the purchaser’s company site), and pastes it into the item. If the home purchaser has an online bio, the site will link to it. Example: I saw on Blockshopper that Juan Luis Goujon had recently purchased a property in Chicago. I Googled “Juan Luis Goujon,” and the first hit I got was to Blockshopper, profiling the property, linking to Mr. Goujon’s company, and posting a photo of him from the site. Mr. Goujon is not a celebrity or a politician, and he may not be thrilled with this publicity (if anyone truly cares). However, the information regarding the…

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White on White

September 9, 2008

Meta tags consist of words and phrases that are intended to describe the contents of a website. These descriptions are embedded within the website’s computer code. Although websites do not display their meta tags to visitors, Internet search engines utilize meta tags in various ways. First, when a computer user enters particular terms into an Internet search engine, the engine may rank a webpage that contains the search terms within its meta tags higher in the list of relevant results. Second, when a particular webpage is listed as a relevant search result, the search engine may use the meta tags to provide the searcher a brief description of the web page. Brookfield Commc’ns, Inc. v. W. Coast Entm’t Corp., 174 F.3d 1036, 1045 (9th Cir. 1999) —————– The First Circuit has affirmed a finding of trademark infringement based on the defendant’s use of meta tags to attract potential customers of the plaintiff using search engines to find the plaintiff’s web site. The case is Venture Tape v. McGill tried in U.S. District Court by Judge Morris E. Lasker. The defendant’s actions were described as follows by the First Circuit: The record contains numerous admissions that meta tags and invisible background text on [defendant’s] website incorporated [plaintiff’s] exact marks. … [Defendant] even admitted that he intentionally used [plaintiff’s] marks for the express purpose of attracting customers … The background text used…

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"In case you aren't aware of this, MANY (over 60%) of the "100% guaranteed authentic" items you see on Ebay are 100% FAKE!"

July 15, 2008

“In case you aren’t aware of this, MANY (over 60%) of the “100% guaranteed authentic” items you see on Ebay are 100% FAKE! Replicas are sold all over the internet so they end up on Ebay. This guide is to show you some more information on the counterfeit situation and how easily these replicas are being purchased.” Warning on eBay website. [link] Yesterday’s New York U.S. Disrict Court decision exonerating eBay for trademark infringement based on the sale of counterfeit Tiffany products on its auction site is receiving a great deal of attention in legal (and particularly trademark law) circles. The decision is quite extensive, and will be of enormous interest to lawyers (and their clients) who deal with the problem of user-caused online trademark infringement. For a thoughtful discussion of the case I recommend Professor Eric Goldman’s discussion on his Technology and Marketing Law Blog. And watch for the appeal to the Second Circuit (the most influential trademark circuit), which I predict is a lead-pipe cinch. Of course, when it comes to eBay and Google, when one case ends another begins. In early July Rosetta Stone, the foreign language software-based learning company, sued several companies it accuses of “piggybacking”: paying Google to have their ads appear when someone uses Google to search for Rosetta Stone. Think, consumer searches Hertz car rentals, and along with Hertz sees paid ads for…

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Would You Like To Go On an Amphibious Sightseeing Tour?

July 2, 2008

Trademarks are meant to identify the source of products and services. Do you get confused between Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola? Between Payless Shoes and Comfort Shoes? Between Domino’s Pizza and Papa John’s Pizza? Probably not. “Cola,” “shoes” and “pizza” are what trademark law classifies as “generic” terms – they describe the product, not its source or origin. If someone started selling a drink called “Rockstar Cola,” Coke and Pepsi would have no legal grounds for objection. The “cola” part of their trademarks are generic, and in a trademark infringement suit a court’s focus would be on the first word in the trademark, “Rockstar.” On the other hand, if someone started selling Koka Cola or Popsi Cola, the lawyers for Coke or Pepsi would be working overtime to prepare their lawsuit. Now let me ask you a question that might be part of a “trademark survey” – a survey designed to determine how strong a trademark is, whether two trademarks are confusing, or whether a trademark is generic: What do you call a sightseeing tour that uses an amphibious vehicle to transport tourists on land and water? What other names, if any, do you use to refer to this type of sightseeing tour? Did you answer “duck tour” to the first question and “don’t know” to the second? If you did you went right to the heart of the First…

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Quick Hits: "In Hand" Service and Deceptive Advertising

May 8, 2008

What does it mean when a contract requires that notice be given “in hand”? Believe it or not, despite over 225 years of Massachusetts jurisprudence, until now no Massachusetts court had ever considered this question. In McMann v. McGowan, 17 Mass. App. Ct. 513 (2008), decided on April 7, 2008, the Appeals Court held that “in hand” means delivery into the hand of an authorized receipient. The Court rejected the argument that “in hand” includes delivery by hand, the position argued by the losing party. Of such things the law is built. Everyone knows that false or deceptive advertising is illegal, but a recent decision by Superior Court Judge Thayer Fremont-Smith provides a reminder of how difficult it is for a competitor allegedly harmed by false advertising to prove actual harm and damages, except in the rare case where there are only two firms in the market. Where there are more than two competitors, as Judge Fremont-Smith points out, “it cannot confidently be inferred that any customers procured by defendants’s false advertising were at plaintiffs’ expense.” While not dismissing the case outright, recovering any damages looks like a steep uphill fight for the plaintiff in this case. IDT Telecom v. Voice Distributors, Middlesex Superior Court, April 11, 2008.

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Courts Struggle With Search Engines' Use of Trademarked Keywords

December 1, 2006

Lawyers love to have cases on the “cutting edge” – they thirst for it in law school, and brag about it when they get into practice. No law, no precedents, difficult issues? Bring it on! they say. Clients, of course, feel exactly the opposite – no law, no precedents, no predictability? How is that possible?, they complain. For the last few years Internet search engines have repeatedly found themselves astride this proverbial cutting edge. One of the “issues de jour” faced by the search industry is the sale of advertising triggered by trademarks owned by a competitor. Is it a violation of trademark law for Nissan to pay Google to have ads for Nissan appear when you search for Ford? (The last time I checked this actually occurred). In evaluating legal challenges to this practice courts have focused on a somewhat narrow legal issue: is a search company’s sale of a company’s trademark as a keyword triggering third-party advertising “trademark use”? The answer to this question is critical because “trademark use” could give rise to legal claims, while its absence precludes them. This issue has confounded the courts, as several recent cases, summarized below, illustrate: In the recent case of 800-JR Cigar, Inc. v., Inc. the District Court of New Jersey ruled that Goto did make “trademark use” of JR’s “JR Cigar” trademark and allowed its claims for trademark…

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Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

October 19, 2006

I’ve been meaning to post some statistics reported by Price Waterhouse Coopers at the MCLE 9th Annual Intellectual Property Conference earlier this year. PWC has done a rigorous study of patent and trademark cases in the Federal District Courts and at the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) over the last 25 years. A few highlights and trends: In 2005, 4% of patent cases and 1.5% of trademark cases went through trial. (Presumably the balance were resolved via settlement or summary judgment). Juries award more damages in patent cases than bench trials. On the other hand, bench trials are more popular in trademark cases. The CAFC is a tough court: only 30% of damage awards are affirmed by the CAFC. Patent damage awards far exceed trademark damage awards. Patent awards’ fastest growth has been in the computer business services and electronics components sectors. Reasonable royalties (rather than lost profits) has become the most frequent measure of damages awarded in patent cases. (This may reflect the fact that more plaintiffs are nonpracticing inventors (sometimes referred to as “patent trolls“).

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American Girl Attempts to Shut Down Porno Site

November 21, 2005

Trademark. What do you do when someone sets up a web site almost identical to yours, but you can’t find the owner of the site in order to sue them? This was the problem faced by American Girl , which sells wholesome girls dolls, clothing and books targeted at pre-adolescent girls, when it discovered that someone was publishing pornography on (Note the missing letter). American Girl sued the registrar and “John Doe” (legalese for, “I’ll name you when I identify you”) but was rebuffed by a Federal District Court Judge in Wisconsin, who held that a John Doe suit was inappropriate in these circumstances. However, this judge really did his homework, and the decision is an excellent road map on how to go about obtaining an injunction under these circumstances, including remedies such as an in rem action against Verisign under the ACPA or arbitration under the UDRP. The decision also provides an excellent summary of the domain name system and the laws that regulate it. Read the full decision here. p.s. Rest easy parents. now links to the American Girl site.

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Yet Another Google Keyword Trademark Case

October 27, 2005

Office Depot, the office supply giant, has filed a lawsuit against arch rival Staples in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach, Florida. Office Depot’s complaint alleges that Staples has engaged in trademark infringement, unfair competition, false advertising, and deceptive trade practices by buying VIKING, a trademark owned by one of Office Depot’s subsidiaries, as an advertising keyword from Google. Google has successfully defended its right to use third party trademarks in its keyword advertising program in a number of recent suits, including the recent GEICO v. Google case that we first discussed here, and reported settled here, but this is the first time that a trademark owner has bypassed Google and gone directly after the company actually buying the keywords. Assuming this case doesn’t settle, we expect that Staples ultimately will prevail, as keyword advertising on the Internet these days is analogous to the completely legal practice of Burger King putting up a billboard next to a McDonald’s in the brick-and-mortar world. However, at the present time a search of VIKING does not return a paid advertisement for Staples, suggesting that Staples may be negotiating a settlement with Office Depot, or is attempting to mitigate future damages.

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Rev. Jerry Falwell Loses FALLWELL.COM Domain Name Dispute, but Bill Cosby Prevails in Dispute over FATALBERT.ORG

September 14, 2005

Trademarks/Domain Names. Why did Jerry Falwell lose and Bill Cosby win? Bill Cosby prevailed this week in a domain name dispute involving FATALBERT.ORG (William H. Cosby, Jr. v. Sterling Davenport). This dispute was resolved in an ICANN arbitration, which requires that the complainant prove both that the domain name was registered and used in bad faith in order to succeed. The arbitrator found that Mr. Davenport had no legitimate interest in the domain name, that he had registered it solely with the intention of trading on the fame of Cosby’s Fat Albert character, and that he sold sexually explicit products and drugs on the site, which the arbitrator found particularly offensive since the Fat Albert mark is so closely associated with children. Mr. Davenport’s for-profit conduct clearly constituted bad faith use and registration of the domain name, and he was ordered to transfer the domain name to Cosby. Compare this with The Reverend Jerry Falwell’s attempt to gain control over FALLWELL.COM, a “gripe” site highly critical of Falwell’s conservative beliefs (Lamparello v. Falwell). In this case the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit rejected Reverend Falwell’s trademark infringement claims, finding that there was no likelihood of consumer confusion, the standard for finding infringement, between Falwell’s web site and Mr. Lamparello’s gripe site. The court held that the registration and use of a domain name must be viewed in…

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Geico and Google Settle Lawsuit

September 9, 2005

Trademark. Geico and Google have reported a settlement of the trademark suit we reported on on August 19th. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

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GEICO v. Google Over Adlinks

August 19, 2005

Trademarks. Google sells other companies’ trademarks as “keywords” on its Internet search engine. Whenever someone types in one of these keywords, such as GEICO, not only will Google’s search results show links to GEICO’s web site, but Google also will show advertising for other insurance companies under a banner called “Sponsored Links.” For example, when writing this blog, we searched “GEICO” on Google’s site and were shown paid links to two of GEICO’s competitors, and Understandably, GEICO protested this practice of using its trademarks to direct consumers to its competitors. Given that 80% of Google’s revenues derive from this “AdWord” program (in turn causing Google to become a Wall Street darling, up three-fold in a year), Google refused to cease and desist, at which point GEICO sued for trademark infringement and unfair competition. After a bench trial (translation: no jury) in federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia in December 2004, the Judge ruled “from the bench” (translation: she delivered her decision orally in court) that GEICO had failed to establish that the use of its trademarks only to direct Google searchers to competitors created consumer confusion (the talisman of a trademark violation). However, she ruled that Google had violated the law when a competitor used GEICO’s name in the heading or the text of the ads. Judges can be very slow, and the Judge’s written opinion…

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