Klein & Wilson

Lawsuits over trademarking search results

California investors might be interested in understanding more about how the judicial system manages trademark disputes associated with search engines. The focus of these court battles typically centers on third-party trademarks used in search returns and advertising. Critics argue that these types of trademarks may be used to confuse Internet users looking for a specific product or brand.

Several courts have already held that any of these third-party trademarks simply diverting consumers from sponsored results or keywords may not qualify as actual infringement. However, if the trademark owners proves that the results or keywords create confusion based on the presentation or use of the trademark, it may be considered to be infringement. One trademark owner recently accused Amazon of using algorithms to confuse consumers when searching for products not available on Amazon.com.

A manufacturer of high-end military watches filed a lawsuit alleging that Amazon was intentionally creating customer confusion from how it manipulated the popular website's search results. The company does not authorize any sales on Amazon, and it filed a lawsuit over the unauthorized use of its logo whenever users search for their particular products on the retailer's website. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed a district court's summary judgment in favor of Amazon, and based on genuine issues of material fact, ruled that a jury ought to hear the case.

Business owners seeking to protect their trademarks and other intellectual property may want to speak with an attorney if they suspect infringement. Legal counsel can investigate the allegations and, if they are merited, take the initial step of sending a cease and desist notification to the violating party as a prelude to initiating litigation.

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