In National City, there are many companies which access the internet on a daily basis using Google, Yahoo, MSN and many others as their home page. The below company was not located in National City. Our law firm of Law Office of Scott C. Soady, A Professional Corporation, LLP practices in estate planning and family law. Please feel free to e mail our office for a complimentary and confidential consultation.
An Internet marketing company provided a free software application that keeps track of computer users’ activity on the web in order to deliver targeted advertising for its clients. The software uses an unpublished internal directory with thousands of website addresses and keywords for particular interests of consumers. When the computer user types in particular terms in a browser or search engine, a relevant “pop-up” ad is delivered to the computer.
A company in the contact lens business learned that its website was in the internal directory and that the software caused pop-up ads for competing contact lens retailers to appear on the screens of individuals who visited the company’s website. The contact lens company sued the marketing firm on the theory that the marketing firm had infringed upon a trademark in violation of federal law. From the plaintiff’s standpoint, the actions of the marketing firm were allowing competitors to take a free ride on the plaintiff’s website.
A federal court ruled against the plaintiff contact lens company. A successful trademark infringement lawsuit requires a showing of a protected trademark and a use of that trademark in commerce in connection with the sale or advertising of goods or services, without the plaintiff’s consent. The use of the mark by the defendant also must be such as to likely cause confusion between the plaintiff and the defendant. The action brought by the plaintiff failed primarily due to the court’s ruling that the defendant had never “used” the plaintiff’s trademark in a manner like that in a typical infringement case. First, the defendant reproduced the plaintiff’s website address, which was similar, but not identical, to its trademark. In addition, the pop-up ads, which appeared in a separate window prominently branded with the marketing company’s mark, had no discernible effect on the functioning of the plaintiff’s website.
It was not enough for a successful claim that the defendant and its clients were trying to take advantage of the plaintiff’s goodwill and reputation, which had led people to the plaintiff’s website in the first place. What the defendant was doing was no more legally objectionable than the low-tech counterpart of chain drug stores placing their own store-brand products on shelves next to the higher-priced and trademarked versions of the same products, so as to capitalize on their competitors’ name recognition.