Tag: Trademarks (page 1 of 2)

Domain disputes under federal law can be inefficient

A recent case from a federal court in Kentucky shows why the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (15 U.S.C. 1125(d) – the “ACPA”) can be – compared to the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (“UDRP”) – a relatively inefficient way of resolving domain name disputes under federal law.  

domain disputes under federal law

Defendant was an infringer

Here is a quick rundown of the facts. Defendant owned a business directly competitive to plaintiff ServPro. Plaintiff had used its mark and trade dress since the 1960’s. Defendant set up a website using plaintiff’s color scheme, bought Google AdWords triggering ads showing plaintiff’s mark, and registered a domain name identical to plaintiff’s mark – servpro.click. These facts supported the court’s entry of summary judgment in plaintiff’s favor on the question of trademark infringement. But the ACPA claim got the  court got hung up because of some hard-to-believe facts the defendant put forward.  

What the ACPA requires

The ACPA requires a plaintiff to prove bad faith intent to profit from the disputed domain name. And it gives courts a list of nine things that a court can consider in determining this bad faith. In other words, this list is not the be-all and end-all guide for determining ACPA bad faith. Here are the nine things a court should consider in resolving domain name disputes under federal law: 

  • (I) the trademark or other intellectual property rights of the person, if any, in the domain name; 
  • (II) the extent to which the domain name consists of the legal name of the person or a name that is otherwise commonly used to identify that person; 
  • (III) the person’s prior use, if any, of the domain name in connection with the bona fide offering of any goods or services; 
  • (IV) the person’s bona fide noncommercial or fair use of the mark in a site accessible under the domain name; 
  • (V) the person’s intent to divert consumers from the mark owner’s online location to a site accessible under the domain name that could harm the goodwill represented by the mark, either for commercial gain or with the intent to tarnish or disparage the mark, by creating a likelihood of confusion as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or endorsement of the site; 
  • (VI) the person’s offer to transfer, sell, or otherwise assign the domain name to the mark owner or any third party for financial gain without having used, or having an intent to use, the domain name in the bona fide offering of any goods or services, or the person’s prior conduct indicating a pattern of such conduct; 
  • (VII) the person’s provision of material and misleading false contact information when applying for the registration of the domain name, the person’s intentional failure to maintain accurate contact information, or the person’s prior conduct indicating a pattern of such conduct; 
  • (VIII) the person’s registration or acquisition of multiple domain names which the person knows are identical or confusingly similar to marks of others that are distinctive at the time of registration of such domain names, or dilutive of famous marks of others that are famous at the time of registration of such domain names, without regard to the goods or services of the parties; and 
  • (IX) the extent to which the mark incorporated in the person’s domain name registration is or is not distinctive and famous within the meaning of [the Lanham Act]. 

The court’s decision on cybersquatting

The court found that factors I through IV and IX weighed in plaintiff’s favor. But the court found there to be a genuine issue as to factor V and denied summary judgment. It found that defendant had an intent to divert plaintiff’s customers. 

Defendant asserted he did not purchase the servpro.click domain name intending to divert customers from plaintiff for defendant’s gain. Instead, he alleged that he registered the domain name to collect information and perform analytical research for running Google AdWords. He also alleged that the website the domain name pointed to did not advertise that it was ServPro. And the contact information on the website pointed to his personal cellphone. He alleged that when answering calls made to that number, he identified himself as affiliated with his company and never identified himself as affiliated with plaintiff. 

The court probably had difficulty denying summary judgment 
in a situation where the facts alleged are so hard to believe. A court’s role at the summary judgment stage, however, is not to weigh the evidence, but merely to determine whether there is a factual issue for trial. The time for really ascertaining the truth of defendant’s assertions will come later.  

Was the ACPA too cumbersome for this case?

In any event, these flimsy arguments remaining alive far into expensive litigation underscores how domain disputes under federal law are more cumbersome . The marshaling of evidence, briefing and argument in federal court can easily rack up six-figures in attorney’s fees and costs. Even after that effort, the summary judgment standard provides little assurance a party arguing against thin facts will get relief. Had the parties resolved this dispute under the UDRP and not the ACPA, plaintiff’s arguments would have had more success.  

ServPro Intellectual Property, Inc. v. Blanton, 2020 WL 1666121 (W.D. Ky. April 3, 2020) 

Related:

How companies can use their trademarks to combat COVID-19-related phishing

Straightforward out-of-court domain name proceeding can provide efficient relief against fraudulent websites and email.

Google has seen a steep rise amid the Coronavirus pandemic in new websites set up to engage in phishing (i.e. fraudulent attempts to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and financial details). Companies in all industries – not just the financial sector – are at risk from this nefarious practice. But one relatively simple out-of-court proceeding may provide relief.

Varieties of Phish Species

Phishing schemes can take a variety of forms. A fraudster may register a domain name similar to the company’s legitimate domain name and use it to send email messages to the company’s customers, requesting payment and providing wire instructions. Distracted or untrained customers who receive the email may unwittingly wire funds as instructed in the fraudulent email to an account owned by the criminal. Or the phishing party may set up a legitimate looking but fake website at a domain name similar to the company’s legitimate domain name, and direct users there to purportedly log in, thereby disclosing their usernames, passwords, and perhaps additional sensitive information.

Taking Sites Down with the UDRP

Everyone who registers a domain has to agree, by contract, to have disputes over the domain name’s ownership resolved through an administrative proceeding (similar to arbitration). The Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) governs disputes over .com, .net, .org and many other domain name registrations. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) provides administrative panels who decide disputes under the UDRP. These are decided “on the papers” with each party having the opportunity to submit arguments and supporting documentation. The time and expense of a UDRP proceeding is a small fraction of what one sees in typical litigation – UDRP cases usually conclude within weeks, and generally cost a few thousand dollars.

The UDRP Frowns Upon Phishing

To be successful in bringing a UDRP proceeding, a party has to prove (1) that it owns a trademark that is identical or confusingly similar to the disputed domain name, (2) that the party that registered the disputed domain name has no rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name, and (3) that the disputed domain name was registered and has been used in bad faith.

UDRP panels typically show little tolerance for blatant phishing efforts. Companies bringing UDRP actions against registrants of domain names registered for phishing purposes enjoy a high rate of success. A good phishing effort (that is, “good” in the sense that the fake domain name succeeds in deceiving) will require using words similar to the company’s mark. So the first element is usually a low hurdle. On the second and third elements, UDRP panels are readily persuaded that a party using a disputed domain name for phishing gains no rights or legitimate interests, and demonstrates clear bad faith. “Using the disputed domain name to send fraudulent email is a strong example of bad faith under the [UDRP].” Samaritan’s Purse v. Domains By Proxy, LLC / Christopher Orientale NA, WIPO Case No. D2019-2403 

Seventh Circuit requires trademark defendants to pay plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees

Court held this was an “exceptional case” and that trial court judge should have awarded plaintiff its attorneys’ fees under the Lanham Act.

While it is fairly common for successful litigants in copyright cases to be awarded the attorneys’ fees they incur in bringing or defending the case, that fee-shifting is not as common in trademark cases. There is a higher standard that must be met in trademark cases – the prevailing party must show that it has won an “exceptional case”. That recently occurred in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Plaintiff home remodeling company and defendants – a manufacturer of storm shelters and one of its owners individually – found themselves in a trademark dispute over rights to use a mark plaintiff had developed to use as a distributor of defendants’ storm shelters.

Defendants disregarded on oral license agreement it had with plaintiff and used the mark for years outside the territorial scope of the license. The evidence showed that defendants intended to just buy the mark in the event plaintiff noticed defendants’ out-of-scope use.

Plaintiff indeed noticed and sued. The trademark infringement case went to trial. The trial court – though it found in plaintiff’s favor on the liability question and awarded more than $17 million in damages to plaintiff – declined to order defendants to pay plaintiff’s attorneys fees. Plaintiff sought review of the denial of attorney’s fees with the Seventh Circuit.

On appeal, the court reversed and remanded. It found that the trial court’s findings made this an “exceptional case” and thus appropriate for an award of attorneys’ fees.

Specifically, the court found that defendants’ conduct was willful, egregious and intentional. Likewise, defendants had acted in bad faith and maliciously, and refused to cease infringing activity, causing plaintiff unnecessary trouble and expense.

4SEMO.com Inc. v. Southern Illinois Storm Shelters, Inc., Nos. 18-1998 & 18-2095 (7th Cir., October 7, 2019)

About the Author: Evan Brown is a Chicago technology and intellectual property attorney. Call Evan at (630) 362-7237, send email to ebrown [at] internetcases.com, or follow him on Twitter @internetcases. Read Evan’s other blog, UDRP Tracker, for information about domain name disputes.

What should we do when trademarks offend?

Trademarks are symbols that convey meaning, and ostensibly that meaning is ontologically linked to the purveyor of the goods or services with which the trademark is connected. But those symbols can relate to different ontologies as well, be they freighted with racism/prejudice, religious offense, or plain old poor taste. Take for example the ongoing Redskins dispute, Muslims protesting a sacred symbol on perfume, and the weird attempt by a Malaysian company to get an Australian trademark for MH17.

The law and social advocacy step in to critique these brand owners’ selection of marks. For example, the USPTO found the Redskins marks to so disparage Native Americans that the football team should not enjoy the protections of a federal trademark registration. Ticked-off Sufis protested their holy symbol being used in a concupiscent manner. And we all sort of scratch our heads at why a company would think it should capitalize commercially on the tragedy of an airliner downed in a war zone.

But do the law and social advocacy really have any role to play here? Of course. So perhaps the more critical question is whether those roles should be primary ones. Trademarks exist to regulate commerce. More specifically, trademark law seeks primarily to ensure that a purchaser’s decision making process will be unmessed-with by others seeking to muddy that purchaser’s picture of who is providing the goods or services. If trademarks can have multiple meanings, which of course they sometimes will, shouldn’t we just let the marketplace sort that out? At the same time that trademark law is guiding a purchaser’s decision in an environment hopefully free of confusion, why not just let the sensibilities of the purchasing majority decide what products – some branded with offensive symbols while others not – be sustained?

Evan Brown is an attorney in Chicago advising clients on matters dealing with trademarks, copyright, technology, the internet and new media.

Personal name in web search results did not support Lanham Act claim

Stayart v. Yahoo, — F.3d —, 2010 WL 3785147 (September 30, 2010)

Plaintiff performed a vanity search of her own name on Yahoo and found some results on porn and pharmaceutical sites. When Yahoo would not remove the search results upon plaintiff’s request, plaintiff sued under Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act. She claimed that the results showed a false endorsement by her of the pornographic and pharmaceutical sites.

Yahoo moved to dismiss, arguing that plaintiff was without standing to challenge this use of her personal name under Section 43(a). The district court granted the motion. Plaintiff sought review with the Seventh Circuit. On appeal, the court affirmed.

It held that plaintiff had failed to show she had a commercial interest in her name. Such interests are the only ones protectible under Section 43(a). Attempting to overcome this hurdle, plaintiff urged the court to consider her online activities such as writing “scholarly articles” and some poetry to be commercial services.

The court rejected this argument, noting that while those goals may be passionate and well intentioned, they are not commercial. Absent commercial activity, plaintiff lacked standing under the Lanham Act.

Other coverage of this case:

Trademark holder not entitled to domain name registered years before

Arizona State Trailer Sales, Inc. d/b/a Little Dealer Little Prices RV v. World Wide RV, No. FA1003001315658 (Nat’l Arb. Forum, May 7, 2010)

Startups in the process of selecting a company or product name are often frustrated to see that someone else, years ago, registered the .com version of their newly thought-of name. Similarly, companies that have acquired a trademark registration wonder whether they can use their crisp new registration certificate to stomp out someone else who has been using a domain name similar to the company’s new mark.

A recent case arising under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP for short) shows us that the earlier domain name registration is usually going to be on solid ground against a later-arriving trademark owner.

In the case of Arizona State Trailer Sales, Inc. d/b/a Little Dealer Little Prices RV v. World Wide RV, a National Arbitration Forum panelist denied the trademark owner’s cybersquatting claim against another company who had registered the domain name version of the trademark in 2006.

To be successful under the UDRP, the complainant would have had to show:

  • the domain name registered by the respondent was identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which the complainint had rights;
  • the respondent had no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the domain name; and
  • the domain name had been registered and was being used in bad faith.

The complaint failed on the first of these three elements. The panel found that the requirement of being identical or confusingly similiar “necessarily implies that Complainant’s rights must predate the registration of Registrant’s domain name.” Since the domain name in this case was registered years before, there was no relief to be had. The request to transfer the domain name was denied.

File extensions cannot be trademarks

Autodesk, Inc. v. Dassault Systemes Solidworks Corp., 2009 WL 5218009 (N.D. Cal. December 31, 2009)

One of the issues in the case of Autodesk, Inc. v. Dassault Systemes Solidworks was whether Autodesk could claim trademark rights and the letters “DWG”. The .dwg (“drawing”) file extension is the native file format for Autodesk’s flagship product AutoCAD.

File types

Plaintiff Autodesk moved for summary judgment on the trademark issue. The defendant pointed out that the trademark laws do not permit one to claim exclusive rights in trademarks that are merely functional.

During the hearing on the motion, the court asked Autodesk’s counsel to disavow any claim to trademark protection for the letters “DWG” when used for the file extension. Counsel did disavow such claim but held onto Autodesk’s argument that the letters could serve as a word mark to be used on packaging and advertising and marketing materials.

The Court agreed and sided with Autodesk and included in its order language that expressly stated “anyone in the world is free to use .dwg as a file extension as far as Autodesk is concerned.”

Autodesk filed a motion and asked the court to reconsider its holding, arguing that what Autodesk really meant when it disavowed the claim of exclusive rights was that anyone else could use the extension so long as the use was being made with Autodesk’s proprietary technology, or was interoperable with that technology.

The court rejected this argument holding:

File extensions are functional, and functional uses cannot be trademarked. To rule otherwise would invite a clog on commerce, given the millions of software applications. The limited universe of extension permutations would soon be encumbered with claimants and squatters purporting to own exclusive rights to file extensions.

The court went on to say there would be no consumer confusion because,

[T]he primary purpose of a file extension is to tell the computer the type of the file it is handling. A computer is not a consumer. Its “reading” of the file extension is not in connection with a commercial transaction. It doesn’t care who made the file format it is trying to read.

This isn’t the first time the question of whether machine perception of information has been held to not give rise to trademark protection. An analogous situation is the 1-800 Contacts v. WhenU decision in which the Second Circuit held that WhenU did not “use” another company’s trademarks within the meaning of the Lanham Act when it included trademarked terms in an unpublished directory that triggered delivery of contextually relevant advertising.

Court enjoins transfer of trademarks associated with domain name booty

1st Technology v. Bodog Entertainment Group, S.A., No. 08-0872, (W.D. Wash. September 30, 2008).

After plaintiff 1st Technology won a $46 million default judgment against defendant BEGSA, 1st Technology began its collection efforts by seeking to obtain possession of thousands of BEGSA domain names registered through the Washington-state based registrar eNom. A state court ordered the domain names transferred to a receiver, but the judge, unsure of the degree of the state court’s jurisdiction, did not transfer the ownership of the corresponding federally-registered trademarks associated with the domain names.

Thereafter, BEGSA purported to assign the trademarks to various subsidiaries and related entities. 1st Technology filed a federal lawsuit against BEGSA and these other entities, asking the court to set aside the later transfers as fraudulent conveyances. 1st Technology sought a preliminary injunction to prevent further transfer of the trademarks, and to prevent defendants from using the trademarks in connection with online gambling.

The court granted the motion inasmuch as it sought prevention of further transfer. But it denied the motion as to the use in connection with online gambling.

BEGSA argued, among other things, that the court could not order the forced sale of the trademarks and their goodwill, and that federal trademark law preempted the state fraudulent conveyance law under which 1st Technology sought relief. The court rejected both of these arguments, citing to Seventh Circuit authority providing that the “assertion that a trademark is not subject to an involuntary judicial sale is incorrect.” Adams Apple Distrib. Co. v. Papeleras Reunidas, S.A., 773 F.2d 925, 931 (7th Cir. 1985). On the preemption question, the court noted the absence of any authority cited by BEGSA providing for preemption, and looked to the language of 15 U.S.C. §1119, which gives the court broad authority to affect the federal trademark register.

In denying injunctive relief against the use of the trademarks in connection with online gambling, the court concluded that at such an early stage in the litigation, it was not prepared to distinguish which conduct on the part of the defendants was illegal or legal. Of significant importance was the likelihood of harm to both parties if the trademarks could not be used in the way they traditionally had (that is, for online gambling). Defendants argued that “disjoining the marks from their most commonly known use hopelessly dilutes them and destroys their value – to anyone.”

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.

Blackberry and Twitter in a trademark tussle?

In April 2007, Twitter, Inc. filed application no. 77166246 to register the trademark TWITTER with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. (Twitter is the ever-more-popular tool that enables “friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?” It’s fun. You should try it if you’re not using it already. And you can start by following me.)

Anyway, in February the application reached the point where it was published for opposition. That means that any other trademark owner out there who feels it would be damaged by the TWITTER mark being registered can oppose the application in the Trademark Office.

On March 14, 2008, Research in Motion (of Blackberry fame) stepped up and requested an extention of time to oppose the TWITTER application. I ran a quick search for registered marks owned by Research in Motion (you can do that yourself here), but didn’t see anything close to “Twitter”. Can anyone think of an unregistered mark that RIM owns that is similar to TWITTER? Or any other reason why RIM would want to oppose this application? Comments are open, as they have been for some time.

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