Tag Archives: initial interest confusion

No initial interest confusion in metatag and sponsored listing case

Designer Skin, LLC v. S & L Vitamins, Inc., No. 05-3699, 2008 WL 2116646 (D. Ariz. May 20, 2008)

It’s always a bit nerve wracking to write about decisions when I know that counsel of record is probably going to be reading the post. That’s the situation with the recent Designer Skin v. S & L Vitamins case. Law blogger Ron Coleman (whom I consider a friend though we’ve never met) is defense counsel in the case, and he has been a longtime supporter of Internet Cases with encouragement back when I started in 2005, and with frequent links to here from his blog Likelihood of Confusion.

Ron’s good reputation is in apparent proportion to his lawyering skills, as his client S & L Vitamins was largely victorious in summary judgment proceedings in a trademark infringement matter before the U.S. District Court in Arizona. The case exemplifies a modern issue concerning the use of trademarks on the Internet.

Plaintiff Designer Skin sells indoor tanning products. Designer Skin is pretty selective about who it allows to resell its goods. Defendant S & L Vitamins – a web-based reseller – is not on Designer Skin’s list of permitted resellers. But S & L sells the products anyway. And it gets traffic to its website in part by using Designer Skin’s trademark in metatags, in page HTML, and as a keyword to trigger sponsored search results.

Designer Skin sued S & L asserting a number of causes of action, including trademark infringement. The parties cross moved for summary judgment. One main issue was whether S & L’s conduct resulted in “initial interest confusion” a la Brookfield Comm. Inc. v. West Coast Entertainment Group, 174 F.3d 1036 (9th Cir. 1999). The court ruled in favor of S & L, holding that Designer Skin’s arguments for initial interest confusion failed as a matter of law.

The court ascertained that Designer Skin was arguing initial interest confusion based on (1) S & L’s use of Designer Skin’s marks in metatags, HTML and as keywords, (2) higher placed search results (presumably because of the metatags and use of the mark in HTML), and (3) the appearance of Designer Skin’s marks on S & L’s web pages.

The first argument – said the court – misstated the law. The mere fact that S & L used the marks in this way was not enough for initial interest confusion. Missing was the notion of “bait and switch”. The court emphasized that “[d]eception . . . is essential to a finding of initial interest confusion.” When web users clicked on links to S & L’s pages which indicated Designer Skin products were being sold, they were taken to pages which, not deceivingly, sold Designer Skin products.

The second argument for initial interest confusion failed essentially because it wasn’t plausible. Even if Designer Skin had presented evidence (which the court found it hadn’t) that S & L was showing up higher in search results for “Designer Skin,” only “the naive few” would be deceived. And fooling any less than an appreciable number of users would not be enough for the claim to survive.

As for the third argument, the court found it impossible for initial interest confusion to arise based on what appeared on the site. A searcher could not be tricked into initially visiting a site by the look of the site itself – by that time he or she would already be there.

In short, the court held that because there was no deception on the part of S & L, there could be no initial interest confusion. S & L was using Designer Skin’s marks to truthfully inform searchers what they could find at the S & L site – authentic Designer Skin products.

A look at some keyword cases and a PPC class action suit

Court orders use of “negative keywords”

Orion Bancorp, Inc. v. Orion Residential Finance, LLC, No. 07-1753, 2008 WL 816794 (M.D. Fla., March 25, 2008)

Plaintiff Orion Bancorp, Inc. is a bank operating under the ORION name and registered trademark since 2002. Defendant Orion Residential Finance, LLC provides financial and real estate related services, and used the term “Orion” in interstate advertising and in the domain name “orionresidentialfinance.com” without Orion Bancorp’s authorization or consent.

The court entered an agreed permanent injunction, ordering Orion Residential Finance to refrain from any and all use of the term “Orion”. The defendant was prohibited from purchasing the word “Orion” as a keyword to trigger sponsored advertising. Moreover, it was required to activate “Orion” as a “negative keyword” (specifically preventing Orion Residential Finance’s ads from appearing when one searches using the terms “Orion”).

N.D. Cal.: Competitor’s trademark as keyword causes initial interest confusion

Storus Corp. v. Aroa Marketing Inc., 2008 WL 449835 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 15, 2008).

Plaintiff Storus Corporation (“Storus”) sued Defendants Aroa Marketing, Inc. (“Aroa”) and Skymall, Inc. (“Skymall”) for trademark infringement based on the defendants’ use of Storus’ mark “Smart Money Clip” to trigger sponsored listings. Storus sells its patented Smart Money Clip, and Aroa sold competing products under its Steinhausen mark which were marketed as the “Smart Money Clip”. Aroa tried unsuccessfully to argue that Storus’ mark was a descriptive term not entitled to protection (but offered no evidence of lack of secondary meaning, i.e., it did not prove consumers do not think of Storus when they see the Smart Money Clip mark).

The Court found that Aroa’s use of Storus’ mark in the sponsored ad caused initial interest confusion. In 11 months, the ad was displayed 36,164 times in response to a search for “smart money clip,” resulting in 1,374 clicks on Aroa’s ad. The court found that the marks were identical, were used on the same type of product, and were marketed via the Internet. (Even though Aroa’s mark appeared in the ad, Storus’ mark appeared first, was larger, and was underlined).

11th Circuit: Competitor’s Trademark as Keyword Likely to Cause Confusion

North American Medical Corp. v. Axiom Worldwide, Inc., 2008 WL 918411 (11th Cir. April 7, 2008)

Eric Goldman has a thorough report on his Technology & Marketing Law Blog of a case where the defendant’s use of the plaintiff’s ACCU-SPINA and IDD THERAPY trademarks in metatags constituted use in commerce, and thus trademark infringement where a Google search listed the defendant as the second most relevant organic search result (below the plaintiff). In a footnote, the court did hint that if the defendant’s website included an explicit comparative advertisement, things might have come out differently.

Possible Class Action Suit against Google and PPC Groups

Finally, Sarah Bird reports on SEOmoz.org that a class action trademark and ACPA lawsuit against Google and other domain parking agencies will move ahead. (Goolge’s adsense program contributes to the pay-per-click links on “parked”, i.e., recently acquired, or tasted domain names). The Plaintiff’s are seeking to hold them liable for these PPC links which may offer competing goods. Though for Google’s part, it notes on its FAQ that it is not responsible for the domain names on which its adsense ads appear, it seems disingenuous to suggest that their algorithms are not behind the PPC links that appear. Google’s method for trademark owners to object to sponsored links places the burden for policing this practice on mark owners.