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.