Tag Archives: Keyword Advertising

Bring your discomfort bag (revised and expanded)

Originally posted 2014-06-17 16:41:08. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Technology & Marketing Law Blog: “The keyword advertising legal roller-coaster continues.”

The roller coaster I would not ride

As someone who is on that thrill ride — at least partly on the dime of my clients (as in the Buying for the Home case) — it is of course troubling for an expert such as Eric Goldman to acknowledge this. It is somewhat of a vindication, though, not least of the fact that attorneys practicing in this area really have no business telling clients they have any idea what the outcome of cases implicating these issues might be, no matter how well we think we know the law.

That’s fine as far as it goes. But what about the law? It is distressing enough to tell your client that his case involves an unsettled area of law and that two courts faced with similar facts could well come to different conclusions about the application of the “same” law to those facts. (It can even happen in the same case, as Eric points out in his commentary on Buying.) It is preposterous, however, that your client could get slammed on damages or, in theory, attorneys’ fees — which require a finding of willfulness, mind you — because courts are still feeling their way around.

What a fine opportunity for Congress to step in and provide guidance via legislation — for these angels dancing on the heads of virtual pins are in fact not so much legal decisions at all but real, live policy decisions: Shall the Lanham Act regulate, as a trademark infringement, the utilization of trademarks as search terms in Internet or other computer-based software engines?

This is not the case every time a trademark and the Internet get involved with each other. In the context of past trademark-on-the-Internet disputes, notably involving domains (which the world once thought would be the alpha and omega of trademark battlegrounds on the Web), we have argued that the issues at stake are not novel “cyberlaw” questions but merely require the application of hoary principles of unfair competition to somewhat novel situations. But that argument simply does not stand when we consider the search engine question. It is pedestrian to observe that Congress could not have contemplated this or that application of a law when it passed it. The common law tradition abjures us from such arguments. It is the job of judges to apply the law which affects the decisions we make about conduct to new factual situations by the application of analogy tempered with equity.

Yesterday you said tomorrowBut we are in a new world. When courts make fundamentally different conclusions about a question or cluster of questions — in this case whether trademarks are even “used,” as understood in the Lanham Act, by search engines [UPDATE:  See here.  They are.] It is time to recognize that these legal questions are political questions implicating not only law but commerce at all different levels, as well as technology and the shape of the Internet to come. Not everyone has the stomach for roller coaster rides. Let those who do have their fun. The rest of us, lawyers and clients alike, are entitled to the option of standing on terra firma while conducting our affairs. This is our stop.


Originally posted 2009-01-22 13:31:48. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

"The Interloper" (Norman Rockwell)

"The Interloper" (Norman Rockwell)

Working from home today after a bruising few weeks at work (see yesterday’s post!), I finally figured out what was going on with banner ads on my Internet browsing.  It raises an interesting question about Internet-related copyright and trademark law.

We use a filtered Internet service at home.  This way we know that not only do our children not have access to or permission to use the Internet, but even if they “happen to” get to it anyway, the worst of the worst is not coming into our house.  This is good for the grownups too, of course.

I recently adjusted the filtering level on the service and by virtue of that change the filter now happens to block banner ads.  This I did not mind, because many such ads, especially on Yahoo! mail, are quite garish and often rather gross and, frankly, indecent.  After this change I also started seeing a filtering message in the place of familiar, and relatively high-class, banner ads on my favorite “big” blogs that feature ads, such as Instapundit. It was not a great aesthetic experience but I got used to it.

A little while later I had the jarring experience of realizing that ads for charity auctions on behalf of orthodox educational  institutions — including a client of mine! — and solicitations for fundraising on behalf of penurious young couples in Israel were appearing on that very same site, one of the most popular English-language blogs in the world!  Well, I would say Glenn Reynolds is pretty Jewish-friendly, to say the least, but this struck me as pretty odd.


Once I could focus on the question, however, I realized what was going on:  My filtering service was reselling the filtered advertising real estate to advertisers interested in the orthodox Jewish Internet user market!

This seems to raise some interesting questions, doesn’t it?  Read More…

INTA and the big tent (updated)

Originally posted 2012-05-13 22:00:26. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Revised from Friday’s original post.

In the previous INTA post I raised the question of how a significant session discussing a significant topic — the effect of developments in keyword advertising cases on trademark rights on May 9th, the first day of the 2012 Annual Meeting — could have been so seriously skewed.  I promised, as they say in Washington (but not the way they mean it when they say it), to extend and  clarify my remarks.

I linked to this item from Managing Intellectual Property, the really interesting part of which will be discussed in another post.  We’ll start there, however:

More than 1,400 attendees crowded into a session on keyword advertising yesterday, where Rosetta Stone counsel John Ramsey and other panelists shared their frustrations about the issue and also faced tough questions about the proper legal approach.

Ramsey could not discuss specifics of the company’s closely watched case with Google over trademarks as keywords in sponsored ads, but he explained to attendees the aggravation the brand has experienced over search results incorporating the ROSETTA STONE trademark that managed to appear above links to the company’s authentic site.

Ramsey has every right to be aggravated:  Rosetta Stone has a serious counterfeiting problem; the real actors are essentially untouchable; and it sure as heck seems as if Google is making money off it by taking the pirates’ money for display advertising.

Trademark lawyer Ron ColemanI am not unsympathetic to the concept that intermediaries — at some level — should be held to account for their actions; as regular readers know to death by now, I have long advocated that secondary liability attach to eBay for its comparable role in this process, and remain at odds with many, including the Second Circuit, on this topic.  I was also involved in early efforts, not all of which I can disclose, to get at what seems to be willful blindness by at least some credit-card issuers — an effort regarding which, of course, some small results have finally been achieved by others.

On the other hand, as an outgrowth of my work defending entrepreneurs against fallacious trademark claims based on “unauthorized distribution” of branded merchandise as well as my First Amendment work involving bloggers, I have had the opportunity to see the Lanham Act misused a slightly different way:  As a would-be workaround of the safe harbor provision of Section 230 of the CDA.  That is, they are state-law defamation claim dressed up as federal trademark infringement suits.

Now, as dissimilar as Google and eBay may be in their purported roles as secondary infringers, gripe sites in Section 230 cases are yet another increment less similar.

Yet the claims against all three types of defendants raise related issues:

  • Infringement allegedly arising out of SEO-related techniques, such as keyword purchases, metatags and supposed “black hat” SEO
  • Network or affiliate marketing where the ad content is not controlled by the defendant
  • Claims of consumer confusion based on affiliation or sponsorship arising out of such advertisements

Would the distinction among fact patterns and defendants be acknowledged in this discussion, which was advertised as addressing SEO in trademark infringement but whose focus was the arguably unique (and, by the way, pending) case of Google v. Rosetta Stone?  I was quite interested in this panel and not unsympathetic to Rosetta’s plight.  Yet.

My heart sank, however, when I heard John Ramsey — however understandably — utilizing the loaded vocabulary of advocacy, not reflection:   Read More…

Google, Geico Good to Go

Originally posted 2014-03-14 10:41:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Google and Geico have settled.

Ninth Circuit. Keywords. Trademarks. Hike!

Originally posted 2011-03-11 17:23:32. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Here’s a roundup of what other people are saying about the decision in Network Automation, Inc. v. Advanced System Concepts, Inc. involving keyword advertising using other folks’ trademarks (a form of the dreaded “diversion“!) and perhaps implicating secondary liability for trademark infringement:

Well, that’s almost all the roundup you need!  In fact, here’s the “takeaway” of Eric’s post:

9th Circuit court building with sign

We’ve had surprisingly few appellate decisions involving keyword advertising generally, and almost none involving trademark owners’ lawsuits against keyword advertisers (as opposed to suing keyword sellers like search engines). On that basis alone, this ruling is important. The case is also remarkable because the opinion, written by highly regarded Judge Wardlaw, gets so many things right.
Perhaps that sounds like damning with faint praise, but the reality is that the Ninth Circuit’s Internet trademark law has become horribly tortured due to deeply flawed opinions like the 1999 Brookfield case. This opinion deftly cuts through the accumulated doctrinal cruft and lays a nice foundation for future Internet trademark jurisprudence.
The only sour note is that the opinion makes some unnecessary and empirically shaky “presumptions”–exactly the kind of unfortunate appellate court fact-finding that got the Ninth Circuit into trouble into the first place. Still, given how this opinion could have turned out, I still give this opinion very high marks.
Yeah, Eric is great on that “presumption” stuff — and how badly judges wing them when it comes to trademark.  And Rebecca?

Read More…

Good News: I Saved a Lot of Money on Litigation

Originally posted 2010-10-12 18:56:06. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Looking for the Geico v. Google decision?  Here it is.

More to come….

UPDATE: I didn’t exactly mean more litigation — but I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.

UPDATE: I think of Professor Eric Goldman as the person in academia whose professional interests track mine most closely, among the statistically insignificant number of such possible persons I’ve heard of. Anyway, he’s right on here, too — I don’t know what to make of this opinion. Here’s his take, which he shared both on his blog and, in brief form, on the INTA list (link is mine, however):

The opinion does very little to clarify or add to the court’s oral ruling from December. So we really don’t learn much from this opinion, and as a result, I can’t see why this opinion will affect the parties’ settlement negotiations. …

[T]he court does some arm-waving. It appears to endorse GEICO’s position (from Brookfield and other cases) that an “initial interest confusion” case moots the need to use the standard likelihood of confusion multi-factor test[, and the court] summarizes by saying: “To prove likelihood or absence of confusion, initial or otherwise, parties commonly introduce the results of customer or potential customer surveys.”

It’s true that surveys are a standard method of proving likelihood of consumer confusion, and I’m glad the court required some empirical proof rather than mere intuition-driven arguments that pervade most initial interest confusion cases. However, what legal standard is the court using? If it is bypassing the multi-factor likelihood of confusion test, what test is it using? The court doesn’t say.

One other odd thing about this statement. What’s this about proving the absence of confusion? The burden is on the plaintiff, not the defense. Why would anyone need to prove the absence of confusion?

. . .

The court … continues, “Despite the many flaws in its design, the survey’s results were sufficient to establish a likelihood of confusion regarding those Sponsored Links in which the trademark GEICO appears either in the heading or text of the ad.”

This is a non-sequitur. There’s nothing in the court’s opinion or the discussion of the survey that supports this finding. Unfortunately, the court does nothing to explain its thinking about this conclusion or how the survey supports it. The only thing that the court notes is “the extremely high percentages of respondents who experienced some degree of confusion when viewing [ads displaying GEICO in the text].” Further, Google did not introduce any rebutting evidence on that point.

As a result, the court rules for GEICO that “Google may be liable for trademark infringement for the time period before it began blocking such usage or for such ads that have slipped or continue to slip through Google’s system for blocking the appearance of GEICO’s mark in Sponsored Links.”

Not all that encouraging. That’s the mess judges are making of this area of law — and it’s not as if this one didn’t take her sweet, sweet time getting to this point…

UPDATE:  This post, of course, is literally old news now (2010).  The case did settle, but the issues of liability for keyword advertising — both secondary liability and the old-fashioned  right-through-the-front-door kind — are still in play.

Aw, shucks

We already covered the Designer Skin v. S&L Vitamins summary judgment decision, and linked to commentators Greg Beck, Bill Patry, Rebecca Tushnet, Eric Goldman and Jason Lee Miller.

But it’s positively nerve-wracking reading the commentary of someone like Evan Brown! 😉

Wherefore art thou trademark use?

I wrote a couple of days ago — and once again got hit hard by a learned commenter who disagrees with my view of the matter — about the Second Circuit’s ruling in the Rescuecom v. Google case that keyword advertising can be trademark use giving rise to an action to infringement.  That decision is dated the same day as my blog post, April 6th.  I wrote, “[U]ntil now, district courts in the Second Circuit have held that the use of trademarks as a term was not ‘trademark use.'”

romeo-juliette-by-andriolloNot quite right, it turns out.  For on March 26th, I learned yesterday via the New York Law Journal, Judge Thomas P. Griesa in the Southern District of New York anticipated the Second Circuit, at least insofar as acknowledging the limitations of that broad rule, and rejected a motion to dismiss based on the “keywords aren’t not trademark use” argument.

Ruling in a case with the felicitious caption of Romeo & Juliette Laser Hair Removal, Inc. v. Assara I LLC, Judge Griesa did not anticipate the Second Circuit’s legal ruling, however.  Rather, he focused on another often-overlooked point:  The difference between a keyword that generates a competitor’s otherwise inoffensive ad, and one that results in an ad that is it itself potentially confusing because it uses the keyword itself in a way not justifiable as a fair use.

According to the opinion, when a user searched for “romeo & juliette laser,” presumably the first search someone looking for romance-enhancing hair removal would make, the result came up with an ad like this:

Needless to say, neither the Capulets or the Montagues authorized this use of their trademark by their competitor, Assara.  Nor is their any obvious justification for it under trademark law or otherwise.  This kind of use, Judge Griesa easily determined, was not immunized even under the then-current understanding of the Second Circuit’s 1-800 decision:

Defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment because any use of the mark in this context was non-infringing.  In support of this argument, they invoke the Second Circuit’s holding that a “company’s internal utilization of a trademark in a way that does not communicate it to the public” is non-infringing.  1-800 Contacts, 414 F. 3d at 109.  Thus if defendants had paid Google to display Assara’s advertisement in response to a search for “Romeo & Juliette,” without having the advertisement itself contain a reference to Romeo & Juliette, that would not have been a ‘use’ of the mark. . . . In this case, however, plaintiff alleges that the use of its mark was in Assara’s advertisement itself, as well as on the face of Assara’s website.  Therefore, the cases approving of the “internal utilization” of a trademark are inapposite.

So they are, and, by virtue of the Circuit’s decision earlier this week, they may be more — or less — than that, too.  The Romeo & Juliette decision is here.

GEICO Isn’t Good News for Google

Geico logo with geckoRemember the GEICO v. Google case? My former law partner and long-time spouse Jane Coleman does. She’s writing a chapter on secondary trademark infringement liability for the second edition of a book on trademark counterfeiting now being edited by our colleague Brian Brokate, a partner at Gibney Anthony & Flaherty.  wrote the definitive reference work on secondary trademark infringement.  (Brian is one of the leading anti-counterfeiting lawyers in the country. )  Her conclusion is one that Google and its lawyers doubtless know well: Having no trademark monitoring policy may be trouble, but a little policing may be worse than none at all.

The standard is set by a leading case in this area, Inwood Labs. Under Inwood, in a contributory trademark infringement case, a court will find contributory liability if the defendant has either (1) intentionally induced a third party to infringe the plaintiff’s mark or (2) supplied a product to a third party with actual or constructive knowledge that the product is being used to infringe the mark. The GEICO lawsuit, like most such cases, is a Prong Two case.

So, on to Prong Two, then: supplying a product to a third party with knowledge that the product is being used to infringe the mark. Product? Here there is no product; Google provides a service. But based on the principles synthesized in a later decision, Lockheed Martin v. Network Solutions from what are known as the “flea market cases,” the second prong of this definition of contributory infringement can apply to services, too. Then the court applies a modified version of the Inwood standard: It considers the extent of monitoring and control the defendant has over the infringing activity.

So, what happened in the GEICO case? GEICO, a discount insurance company, sued Google for using GEICO’s trademarks to sell advertising on Google’s search engine, alleging contributory trademark infringement. Two practices of Google were at issue:

  1. The sale by Google of GEICO’s marks as search terms or “keywords,” and
  2. The advertisements or “sponsored links” which contained GEICO’s marks in their text, generated by customers who selected those terms.

Regarding the sponsored links, GEICO had argued earlier that Google was contributorily liable, saying, “the advertisers themselves [made] ‘trademark use’ of the GEICO marks by incorporating them into the advertisements, which are likely to deceive customers into believing that the advertisers provide accurate information about GEICO products or are somehow related to GEICO.” GEICO also claimed — remember the “direct control and monitoring” standard of Lockheed — that Google in fact exercised significant control over the content of advertisements that appeared on its search result pages.

Last December, Google asked the U.S. District Court to grant judgment as a matter of law in its favor. It argued that GEICO could not win its contributory liability claim, because it could not prove that “Google affirmatively encouraged or knowingly assisted in violation of trademark law by the alleged infringers.” Google urged that its own internal trademark enforcement policy bans the infringing advertisements at issue, though “some ads occasionally slip through.” It insisted that the “inability to achieve perfect enforcement of that policy” did not give rise to contributory liability, and that there was no evidence that Google condoned or encouraged infringement.

But this would only matter if Prong One — intentional inducement– were at issue. Apparently, it’s not. Google understandably would have the court focus on its good intentions, but this is a Prong Two case such as Lockheed — where, again, the courts ask whether the defendant exercises a level of monitoring and control that Google acknowledges it does effect via its trademark enforcement policy. Google’s argument regarding its internal trademark policing policy may, in fact, prove too much.

It’s not clear that Google can get out of responsibility for ads that “slip through,” given its awareness of the existence of infringing ads. If it can police a little, perhaps it can police a lot. Judge Brinkema’s oral opinion did not address this, but a final written decision by her or an appellate court might. [UPDATE: As of early May, there is still no written decision. It’s a good bet that there won’t be one and the parties will settle…]

The court granted in part and denied in part Google’s motion, allowing the case to go forward on the question of whether Google was contributorily liable for trademark infringement arising out of the sponsored advertisements containing GEICO’s marks. The incentive to settle is high — and maybe that’s why it’s so quiet.

This is why I have argued that auction websites (read: eBay) should be subject to contributory liability for the sale of counterfeit or other infringing merchandise — because they (and other web auctioneers) do have control over the auctions. Courts have repeatedly found contributory infringement where a defendant claims “willful blindness.” Well, it’s certainly a sort of willful blindness to do some kinds of monitoring and not others.

Would it add to the cost of search engines and auctions to do more policing? Yes, of course it would: More fighting over rent. Considering the profits involved, and the tremendous costs imposed on brand owners to try and keep up with counterfeits and online infringers, an outcome that required more policing to protect the IP that contributes to those profits doesn’t seem like an unreasonable one.

Wal-Mart pushed back on dubious trademark threats

New_Walmart_Logo.svgMarketWatch reports this story about an opinonated gent who’s suing Wal-Mart for a declaratory judgment:

Smith said he was making a point by comparing the giant retail company to the Nazis by creating T-shirt designs that played off the Bentonville, Ark., firm’s familiar logo, including “I (heart) WAL*OCAUST. They have family values and their alcohol, tobacco and firearms are 20% off,” the newspaper reported.

Wal-Mart launched a legal battle by writing a cease-and-desist demand that led Smith to file suit Monday in federal court in Atlanta. Former presidential hopeful Ralph Nader’s legal aid group, Public Citizen, is helping Smith, the report said.

Smith should be ashamed of himself for comparing a damned variety store to the Third Reich. It demonstrates a real lack of moral judgment on his part.

But the stupid party here is Wal-Mart, which should get its clock cleaned and which has given a platform for publicity to a bitter, if morally blind, adversary. Whether it will in this trademark-owners-take-all environnment is, however, anyone’s guess.

UPDATE: Hm. Maybe Wal-Mart had it coming?

UPDATE: The Pierce IP News Blog has it that Wal-Mart will claim its trademark is being besmirched by Smith. In other words, its claim will probably hinge on a trademark dilution count. You know, dilution — the infringement that never has to say “I’m confused.”