Tag Archives: Secondary Trademark Liability

Inducement to contribute to infringe … to roll on

Originally posted 2013-02-12 16:34:14. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Michael Atkins:

Novel causes of action for contributory cybersquatting and contributory dilution appear to viable here in the Western District [of Washington].

On Jan. 12, Western District Judge Ricardo Martinez refused to dismiss such claims plaintiff brought in Microsoft Corp. v. Shah.

In that case, Microsoft alleges defendants, among other things, induced others to engage in cybersquatting and dilution by instructing them on how to use Microsoft trademarks to increase traffic on their Web sites. Microsoft also alleges defendants sold a product that contained software that enabled buyers to create Web sites incorporating Microsoft marks to help sell emoticon-related software, including a video narrated by defendant Amish Shah.

Defendants moved to dismiss, arguing claims for contributory cybersquatting and contributory dilution are not recognized.

The court denied the motion.

This is an interesting development, and one to watch, in light of what I see as the overall reluctance of courts to extend the law of secondary liability for trademark infringement — including with respect to domain name registrars.

Secondary trademark infringement: The whole of the law

Originally posted 2009-09-07 15:00:09. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Secondary Trademark Infringement — the website:

This website is dedicated to an examination of the law of secondary liability for trademark infringement – the idea that someone other than a direct infringer can be liable for infringing another’s trademark.  Secondary liability for trademark infringement is a relatively recent development in the law, and it has evolved entirely in the courts. . . .

Of all the contexts in which secondary liability has been raised, whether contributory or vicarious, the Internet has by far generated the most interest and attention. The advent of Internet commerce has created new problems for the law to address. On the Internet, buying and selling take place among a seemingly infinite number of parties at lightning speed, making it difficult both to police and remediate infringement.  These issues came to light in Tiffany v. eBay, where the court observed that “more than six million new listings are posted on eBay daily, and at any given time, some 100 million listings appear on the website.”

That’s from the overview of Jane Coleman‘s new short treatise on vicarious infringement and contributory infringement of trademarks — those are the two different types of secondary liability, you know — which is the first work to analyze and digest thoroughly the entire law on this developing subject.

And talk about thorough!  Be sure and read it through and through so you’ll be ready to comment incisively when the Second Circuit does its work on Tiffany v. eBay (oral argument was in mid July, by the way).  You’ll be the hit of the party.

Poor eBay!

Originally posted 2011-04-27 17:02:13. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

ebay-logo-02News item:

eBay just reported first quarter earnings today posting revenue of $2.5 billion, an increase of 16% from the same period of 2010. eBay’s net income on a GAAP basis of $475.9 million, or $0.36 per diluted share, and non-GAAP net income of $619.0 million, or $0.47 per diluted share, representing a 12% increase compared to the same period of 2010. The retail giant narrowly beat analyst expectations, which were 46 cents per share on revenues of $2.48 billion. eBay says that the first quarter increase in earnings was due primarily to sales growth and a lower effective tax rate.

Nice!  I wish I had one of those.

But it does bring to mind the following bunch of words I do have, and which I wrote on this very place in space, on the topic of eBay’s essentially unconditional non-liability for contributory trademark infringement in connection with the sale on eBay of counterfeit goods:

Willful blindness, evidently, is a good standard to spank flea market zhlubs who “should have known” vendors who rent tables from them are selling counterfeit goods.   It doesn’t apply, however, to billion-dollar companies that are “too big to be liable” as contributory infringers or even  accountable after the fact on some level (disgorgement?)  for the millions they rack up in commissions on counterfeit sales.

Ah, yes, but doesn’t the Circuit say, as quoted above?:

But we are also disposed to think, and the record suggests, that private market forces give eBay and those operating similar businesses a strong incentive to minimize the counterfeit goods sold on their websites. eBay received many complaints from users claiming to have been duped into buying counterfeit Tiffany products sold on eBay.  The risk of alienating these users gives eBay a reason to identify and remove counterfeit listings. Indeed, it has spent millions of dollars in that effort.

I’m disposed to think exactly the opposite, because:

  1. the law will not punish them for failing to do so;
  2. notwithstanding “many complaints” (it’s that Lanham Act “rigor” at work once again!),  most buyers of counterfeits want to buy counterfeits.  It’s not a matter of quality control:   These days, everyone except Archie Bunker who spends $45 for a “Romex” knows exactly what he’s buying.  But unless and until “private market forces” eliminate trademark law, notwithstanding that the sale of a fake Rolex or Tiffany item is entirely between “consenting adults,” it’s still an unlawful transaction;
  3. the “millions of dollars” spent by eBay was spent precisely to obtain an opinion like this by a court that doesn’t really “get it”; and
  4. eBay makes money selling counterfeits!  Even the Circuit had to acknowledge this fact, which it does in a little-bitty footnote and then completely ignores.

Yes, they make a lot of money, they do, at eBay.  Why the company is exempt from any responsibility to compensate victims of trademark infringement via a system it has established — notwithstanding their notice-and-takedown system — merely because it has spent “millions” on trying, a number that is both vague and which the court made no attempt to relate to the profits or the damages involved, remains beyond my understanding.


Locution, Locution, Locution: IP Licensors – Service Suppliers or Product Providers?

Secondary Trademark Liability | Bloomberg BNA

Buy me!

Consider the following scenario: Company A is a well-known film producer that licenses its intellectual property rights in famous cartoon characters to Company B, a jewelry manufacturer. Company B in turn features those characters in bracelets that infringe Company C’s marks. Company C sues both Company B and Company A, alleging direct and contributory trademark infringement, respectively.

In this situation, how should the court apply contributory liability doctrine to the Company A, the licensor defendant? As explained in the website overview, that doctrine prescribes a different standard depending on whether the defendant has supplied a product or a service to the direct infringer. How then should the court view Company A? Has it supplied the direct infringer with an intangible “product” – its intellectual property? Or has it provided it with a “service” – the licensing arrangement? Neither option seems to capture the essence of the licensor-licensee relationship. And yet the difference is not merely a matter of form: In the latter case, Lockheed Martin’s version of the Inwood Labs. test would apply, with its additional requirement that the plaintiff show “direct control and monitoring” of the instrumentality of infringement.[1]

While the courts generally agree that contributory liability doctrine applies in the licensing context,[2] they have wrestled with how, precisely, to characterize the relationship between the licensors and licensees. In the three cases discussed below, the courts considered licensing relationships in the context of contributory liability. In two of the cases, the courts assumed thatLockheed Martin would apply,[3] while the third court reserved judgment pending further developments in the case.[4] Each court had a different view of how to characterize the licensor’s relationship with its licensee. More …

Secondary Trademark Infringement: Don’t wait for the movie!

Critics agree:  Buy the Jane Coleman and Griff Price’s Secondary Trademark Infringement from Bloomberg BNA –or you’re liable to miss the big one!

Secondary Infringement

Best of 2011: Poor eBay!

First posted April 27, 2011.ebay-logo-02

News item:

eBay just reported first quarter earnings today posting revenue of $2.5 billion, an increase of 16% from the same period of 2010. eBay’s net income on a GAAP basis of $475.9 million, or $0.36 per diluted share, and non-GAAP net income of $619.0 million, or $0.47 per diluted share, representing a 12% increase compared to the same period of 2010. The retail giant narrowly beat analyst expectations, which were 46 cents per share on revenues of $2.48 billion. eBay says that the first quarter increase in earnings was due primarily to sales growth and a lower effective tax rate.



Nice!  I wish I had one of those.

But it does bring to mind the following bunch of words I do have, and which I wrote on this very place in space, on the topic of eBay’s essentially unconditional non-liability for contributory trademark infringement in connection with the sale on eBay of counterfeit goods: Read More…

Best of 2009: The DMCA and the search engine

DMCA 1998Posted on August 6, 2009.

Traverse Legal:

Mary Roach has a great post at CircleID on an area that we have talked about extensively, namely, copyright takedowns under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Mary’s post covers the more specific strategy of sending takedown notices to search engine providers, such as Google, Yahoo, and MSN, to effectively reduce access to stolen creative materials.



That’s worth checking out.  How does it work?  As Mary writes,

[R]ather than identifying the infringing copyrighted material itself, rights owners must instead identify the search result or directory page which links to a webpage containing the infringing material. For example, this would require providing the keyword or keyword phrase used in a search or directory query, plus the URL(s) which point to the infringing websites in the DMCA complaint.

You can just imagine the bells going off in my head when I read that formulation.

Read More…

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.

Credit card companies get green light to profit from, enable Internet piracy


Reuters reports that in Perfect 10, Inc. v. Visa Intl. Serv. Assn., 494 F.3d 788, 793 (9th Cir. 2007) the Ninth Circuit has affirmed (opinion here), 2-1, a ruling that there is no third-party copyright or trademark liability for credit card companies such as Visa and MasterCard or the banks that process their transactions, arising from their central — essential, really — role in the sale of counterfeit merchandise (including, as in this case, unauthorized copies of dirty pictures) on the Internet:

Writing for the majority, Judge Milan Smith Jr. said credit card processors, unlike Web search providers, do not direct online traffic. “They in no way assist or enable Internet users to locate infringing material, and they do not distribute it,” Smith wrote.

“Here, the infringement rests on the reproduction, alteration, display and distribution of Perfect 10’s images over the Internet,” Smith wrote.

If you didn’t guess from the title, I disagree with this. Why do judges keep missing this? The credit card companies are very much in the profit chain of infringing websites — websites that do nothing but sell counterfeit goods — and they make no serious effort, even when notified, to prevent this activity from occurring.

I am not just shooting from the hip here. I researched this issue extensively for a Very Important Client, and came to the conclusion that, under the right circumstances, liability should, indeed, attach. I cannot understand, for example, why the Ninth Circuit spends so much time focusing on the fact that the credit card companies do not themselves operate the infringing websites the way flea market operators (who have been held contributorily liable) operate the markets where counterfeit items are sold. That is besides the point. I find this language particularly frustrating:

[T]he ability to exert financial pressure does not give Defendants the right or ability to control the actual infringing activity at issue in this case [as would be required to find liabilty]. . . Defendants can only refuse to process credit card payments to the offending merchant within their payment network, or they can threaten to do so if the merchant does not comply with a request to alter content. While either option would likely have some indirect effect on the infringing activity, as we discuss at greater length in our analysis of the Grokster “stop or limit” standard below, so might any number of actions by any number of actors.

Since when is the fact that other things would also work mean that the law will not require a party in a position to prevent illegality — and which is profiting from the transactions — to do what is in its power?

I’m not alone; not by a long shot. The dissenter? Read More…

Secondary Trademark Infringement: The Monograph

Now it’s out!  The book that transcends the Secondary Trademark Infringement website — itself now converted to a blog by Jane Coleman that will report on and analyze ongoing developments in this area (such as this one on the topic of the Ninth Circuit’s recent screwup on the law of contributory cybersquatting — is now available for purchase from Bloomberg / BNA.

I make no claim here to objectivity.  But I will say it anyway: this book is very, very good; and if you think you know it because you used the old online treatise, you are mistaken.

Buy one one for everyone in your family!

The text below is adapted from the Bloomberg / BNA website.

Secondary Trademark Infringement BookSecondary Trademark Infringement by Jane Coleman and Finnegan’s Griff Price is the first and only comprehensive work on the law of secondary liability for trademark infringement—an area that is quickly becoming an important topic of interest among both practicing attorneys and scholars. The treatise is ground-breaking in its analytical power. Meticulously organized and accessible, it is an ideal reference work for legal and business professionals who use, or whose stakeholders use, trademarks on the internet, who seek guidance with respect to this growing area of potential legal risk.

Secondary Trademark Infringement covers important topics, such as:

  • Infringement liability of businesses that offer internet facilities to third parties using trademarks or trademark-protected goods in commerce, including retailers, auctioneers and distributors
  • Company exposure to liability for the online activities of their hosting customers or advertisers
  • Legal issues arising from web-hosting and other Internet infrastructure or connectivity
  • Exposure reduction measures for companies and institutions that do not use or facilitate trademark use directly, but are part of a commercial chain of activity and present a tempting “deep pocket” or accessible litigation target for claims based on activities of others in the chain

Read More…