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Designer Skin LLC v. S & L Vitamins, Inc., et al.
Unauthorized internet reseller of plaintiff’s products is not guilty of trademark infringement, and does not cause actionable initial interest confusion, by using plaintiff’s trademarks in meta tags of website at which plaintiff’s and its competitors’ products are sold, and in...

Advertisements Online - Internet Library of Law and Court Decisions - Updated November 3, 2008

This section of the Internet Law Library contains a host of court decisions that address the legality of the use of another's trademark to trigger the display of various forms of online advertising, typically marketing a competitor's product, including sponsored links displayed on search engine results pages as part of a keyword advertising program, and pop-up ads that are displayed in a separate window on the user's computer screen.  Among other issues, these cases address whether such use of a party's trademark constitutes a use in commerce, or a trademark use of the trademark sufficient to give rise to trademark infringement claims. 

414 F.3d 400 (2d Cir., June 27, 2005)

Reversing the court below, the Second Circuit dismisses trademark infringement claims brought by a mark holder and website operator against a distributor of pop-up ads.  Such claims fail because "as a matter of law, [defendant] WhenU does not 'use' [plaintiff] 1-800's trademarks within the meaning of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1127 when it (1) includes 1-800's website address … in an unpublished directory of terms that trigger delivery of WhenU's contextually relevant advertising to [computer] users; or (2) causes separate, branded pop-up ads to appear on a [computer] user's computer screen either above, below, or along the bottom edge of the 1-800 website window."

The absence of such a use by WhenU of plaintiff's trademarks is fatal to 1-800 Contacts' trademark infringement claims, and mandated reversal of the District Court's grant of preliminary injunctive relief.  The District Court had enjoined WhenU from including the domain name of plaintiff's website in its unpublished directory, or causing pop-up ads to be displayed when that domain name is entered into the URL bar of a web browser, or as a search term.

In reaching this result, the Second Circuit agreed with the decisions of two other district courts - the Eastern District of Virginia in U-Haul Inc. v. Inc., 279 F. Supp. 2d 723 (E.D.Va. 2003) and the Eastern District of Michigan in Wells Fargo & Co., et al. v. Inc., 293 F.Supp.2d 734 (E.D.Mich. 2003) - each of which similarly held that WhenU's activities did not infringe the respective plaintiffs' trademarks because such activities did not constitute the requisite use of the plaintiffs' respective marks.

309 F.Supp.2d 467 (S.D.N.Y., Dec. 22, 2003), reversed in part and remanded, -- F.3d -- (2d. Cir., June 27, 2005)

Finding plaintiff likely to prevail on its claims of trademark infringement, the District court issued a preliminary injunction, enjoining the pop-up advertiser WhenU from delivering ads which are triggered by a consumer's entry of plaintiff's domain name in either his browser or a search engine, or from including plaintiff's domain name in defendant's proprietary directory, which is used to identify the ads to be delivered to consumers.  Defendant WhenU delivered pop-up ads of plaintiff's competitor to computer users when they typed plaintiff's domain name into either their browser or a search engine.  The court found such conduct likely to cause actionable "initial interest confusion" and to allow defendants to divert consumers seeking plaintiff's products to their own offerings, and thereby unfairly profit from plaintiff's goodwill.  Applying the eight factor Polaroid test, the court found that consumers were likely to be confused by defendants' actions, despite the branding of defendant's advertisements as "a WhenU offer."  As such, the court held that plaintiff was likely to prevail on its trademark infringement claims, and enjoined defendants from continuing to use plaintiff's domain name as a trigger for the delivery of advertisements. 

The court also held that plaintiff was unlikely to prevail on its copyright infringement claims, which arose out of the delivery of pop-up advertisements in a "window" which partially covered the 'window' in which plaintiff's site appeared on a consumer's computer screen.  The court found that this conduct neither violated plaintiff's right to display its copyrighted website, nor its right to create derivative works therefrom.  This later ruling was premised on the court's determination that defendant's ads are not sufficiently fixed to constitute an infringing derivative work.

The court's holding on plaintiff's trademark infringement claims is at odds with that reached by two other district courts - the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in U-Haul International, Inc. v., 279 F.Supp. 2d 723 (E.D.Va. 2003), and the District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in Wells Fargo & Co. v. WhenU., 2003 WL 22808692 (E.D. Mich. 2003), each of which refused to issue similar injunctive relief.  As the Southern District of New York court noted, "this Court disagrees with, and is not bound by these findings."

437 F. Supp. 2d 273 (D.N.J., July 13, 2006)

Federal District Court holds that the use of plaintiff's 'JR Cigars' trademark as a keyword in's pay-for priority search engine to trigger the display of advertisements from third party competitors constitutes a "trademark use" sufficient to support trademark infringement and dilution claims under the Lanham Act.  Such trademark use arises out of's acceptance of bids from JR Cigar's competitors for a linkage to plaintiff's marks, by which GoTo trades on the value of those marks.  Such trademark use also arises out of GoTo's act of giving such advertisers priority over 'natural' search results, and thereby steering potential customers away from JR Cigar to its competitors.  Finally, such trademark use arises out of's use of a "Search Term Suggestion Tool" to assist in marketing JR Cigar's marks to its competitors, which tool shows the search traffic attracted by plaintiff's mark.

The Court went on to deny cross-motions by JR Cigar and for summary judgment, holding issues of fact precluded its determination of the likelihood of consumer confusion arising out of such usage of plaintiff's marks, and hence from resolving the trademark infringement claims at issue.

Finally, the Court dismissed claims advanced by plaintiff under both New Jersey's Consumer Fraud Act, N.J.S.A. §56:8 et seq. and the federal Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act, 15 U.S.C. §6102(b).  The Court held that plaintiff lacked standing to proceed under New Jersey's Consumer Fraud Act, and that the reach of the Telemarketing Act did not extend to the acts at issue in the case at bar.

461 F.Supp.2d 681, Case No. 06 C 0657 (N.D. Ill., November 14, 2006) aff'd -- F.3d -- (7th Cir. Mar. 14, 2008)

Court holds that the Communications Decency Act ("CDA") immunizes defendant Craigslist, Inc. ("Craigslist") from liability for publishing housing ads authored by third parties that allegedly violate the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3604(c) ("FHA").  In reaching this result, the Court held that the immunity afforded internet service providers under section 230(c)(1) of the CDA only extends to claims seeking to hold an ISP liable as a publisher for content authored by third parties, and not to all claims arising out of the ISP's role in giving the public access to such content.  Because the FHA claims at issue were premised on Craigslist's publication of offensive ads authored by third parties, the Court held they were barred by the immunity granted under Section 230(c)(1).

No. 07-1101 (7th Cir., March 14, 2008)

Affirming the District Court below, the Seventh Circuit holds that Craigslist cannot be held liable for violating the Fair Housing Act as a result of its online publication of discriminatory housing ads authored by third parties. To hold Craigslist liable for such conduct would require it to be treated as a ‘publisher’ of these advertisements, which is prohibited by Section 230(c)(1) of the Communications Decency Act.  As a result, the Seventh Circuit affirms the District Court’s grant of summary judgment, dismissing plaintiff’s Fair Housing Act claims against Craigslist.

No. CV 05-3699-PHX-JAT (D. Arizona, May 19, 2008)

Court holds that unauthorized internet reseller of plaintiff’s tanning products is not guilty of trademark infringement as a result of its use of plaintiff’s trademarks in the meta tags of a website at which such products are sold, and as search engine keywords triggering the display of a link to such a website.  In reaching this result, the Court rejected plaintiff’s claim that such use of its marks causes actionable ‘initial interest confusion’ by directing those searching for plaintiff’s site to that of the defendant.  To sustain such a claim, holds the court, defendant’s conduct must be deceptive.  Plaintiff failed to meet this burden because defendant’s site does indeed offer plaintiff’s products for sale, and thus, its use of plaintiff’s mark in the site’s meta tags is not deceptive, but rather accurately describes the contents of defendant’s site.  This was true, held the Court, notwithstanding the fact that S & L offered plaintiff’s competitors products for sale on its site as well.

The Court also dismissed trademark dilution claims arising out of defendant’s use of plaintiff’s marks.  The Court held that, under the circumstances, defendant’s use of plaintiff’s marks in the meta tags of its site, and as search engine key words, constituted a permissible nominative fair use of those marks.  To establish that a use of a trademark qualifies as a permissible nominative fair use, the defendant must ‘do nothing that would, in conjunction with the mark, suggest sponsorship or endorsement by the trademark holder.’  Notably, the Court reached this result because plaintiff failed to submit adequate evidence as to the impact this use of its marks had on the listing of defendant’s site in search results for plaintiff’s mark.  The Court left open the possibility that such a use of plaintiff’s mark may not qualify as a nominative fair use if in fact it caused defendant’s site to appear at or near the top of search engine results for plaintiff’s mark, and thereby suggested that plaintiff sponsored or endorsed defendant’s site. 

The Court denied so much of defendant’s motion for summary judgment which sought dismissal of copyright infringement claims arising out of its use of electronic renderings of plaintiff’s products to promote the sale of such products on its web site.  Issues of facts as to whether defendant copied such images from plaintiff’s web site, or created its own, precluded an award of summary judgment.  In allowing this claim to proceed to trial, the Court rejected defendant’s argument that its alleged use of plaintiff’s images was protected as a fair use.  Notwithstanding the fact that defendant’s use did not effect the potential market for plaintiff’s images – which plaintiff does not offer for sale – the Court rejected defendant’s fair use argument, pointing to the fact that its use was commercial, and copied plaintiff’s image, which was a creative work, in its entirety.

Finally, the Court rejected plaintiff’s claim for intentional interference with contractual relations, which arose out of prohibitions contained in contracts with plaintiff’s distributors precluding their resale of plaintiff’s products to Internet resellers such as defendant.  Defendant obtained plaintiff’s products from tanning salons, to whom the distributors were permitted to sell such products.  Because there was no evidence either that such tanning salons were acting as defendant’s agent in purchasing goods from plaintiff’s distributors, or that defendant directly purchased such goods from the distributors in breach of the prohibitions contained in their agreements, this claim failed.

Civil Action No. 07-cv-286 (D. N.H., March 27, 2008)

Court holds that the Communications Decency Act immunizes defendants from various non-intellectual property claims arising out of their making available on their adult social networking sites an anonymous profile authored by an unknown third party which plaintiff claims falsely appears to people who know her to be her own.  The Court holds that this immunity also covers non-intellectual property claims arising out of defendants reposting this profile on third party sites, making slight alterations to the profile as to the participant’s age, and using the profile in teasers and other advertisements for defendants’ site.  As a result, the Court dismissed claims plaintiff advanced for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, intentional, reckless, negligent and/or willful and wanton conduct, and violations of the New Hampshire Consumer Protection Act, arising out of such alleged misconduct.

The Court held that the Communications Decency Act did not, however, immunize defendants from intellectual property claims plaintiff advanced, both under applicable federal and state laws, including right of publicity claims advanced under New Hampshire state law.   Plaintiff was accordingly allowed to proceed with claims that defendants, by including identifiable aspects of plaintiff’s persona in advertisements and ‘teasers’ in an effort to increase the profitability of their websites, violated her right to publicity.

The Court further held that plaintiff could proceed with Lanham Act false designation of origin and false advertising claims against the defendants.   The false advertising claim was based on the inclusion of the profile at issue in ‘teasers’ and other advertisements for defendants’ site.  These acts allegedly deceived consumers into registering for defendants’ services in the hope of interacting with plaintiff, and caused injury to her reputation as a result, including alleged lost employment opportunities.  The false designation of origin claims similarly arose out of defendants’ use of the profile at issue in marketing their sites, which falsely implied plaintiff’s affiliation with, or sponsorship and approval of, defendants’ site and service.

2004 U.S. Dist. Lexis 227788 (D.N.H., October 21, 2004)

Court holds that the FTC is likely to prevail on its claims that defendants violated the Federal Trade Commission Act ("FTCA"), 15 U.S.C. § 45(a)(1).  Defendants were charged with downloading to consumers' computers, without their knowledge or consent, both spyware and adware that delivered pop-up advertisements for anti-spyware software, as well as "exploit code" which altered consumers' home pages, and redirected their browsers to websites selected by defendants.  Apparently, this occurred when consumers visited defendants' websites.  The Court found that this conduct likely ran afoul of the FTCA's prohibition against the use of "unfair or deceptive acts or practices" in commerce.  The Court accordingly issued 'temporary injunctive relief' requiring defendants to remove from their websites the software script that allowed defendants to download this software to consumers' computers without their knowledge.

Case No. 2:06-cv-327 (S.D. Ohio, June 19, 2007)

Court holds that defendants, individual officers of co-defendant Search Cactus LLC (“Search Cactus”) can be held personally liable for violations of the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act (“OCSPA”) arising out of the transmission by Search Cactus of allegedly misleading and deceptive promotional emails, if “the officer took part in the act, specifically directed the act, or participated or cooperated in the act.”  Because the complaint alleged that the individual defendants approved the content of the promotional emails in question, the Court denied the individual defendants’ motion to dismiss, and allowed plaintiff, a recipient of such emails, to pursue his OCSPA claim against them.

Case No. C03-05340-F (N.D. Cal., March 30, 2005)

Court denies Google's motion to dismiss trademark infringement and dilution claims asserted by American Blind, which claims arose out of Google's alleged use of American Blind's trademarks to trigger the display of third party advertisements in search engine results for those marks.  The Court declined, on this motion, to hold that use of American Blind's trademarks in this fashion was insufficient to give rise to trademark infringement or dilution claims because it did not constitute a use of the marks to identify the source of goods or services supplied by Google.  The Court did dismiss the tortious interference with prospective business advantage claim asserted by American Blind, holding that American Blind had failed to allege the interference with sufficiently certain economic relationships necessary to proceed with such a claim.

Case No. 03-5340 JF (RS) (N.D. Cal., April 18, 2007)

District Court holds that Google’s use of defendant American Blind & Window Factory’s (“ABWF”) trademarks to trigger the display of competitors’ ads as part of Google’s “Ad Words” program is a use of those marks in commerce within the meaning the Lanham Act.  These competitors’ ads are displayed by Google as ‘sponsored links’ and do not contain defendant’s trademarks.  The Court accordingly allows ABWF to proceed with trademark infringement claims arising from such use of its marks, finding that ABWF had presented sufficient evidence of consumer confusion to survive Google’s motion for summary judgment.  This evidence included the results of a survey that reported that 29% of consumers believed that such “sponsored links” were affiliated with the company that owned the trademark the consumer used to initiate his search.  The Court held as a result that whether consumers were in fact confused by “sponsored links” that do not contain defendant’s mark was an issue of fact requiring resolution at trial.

The Court did dismiss so much of defendant’s claims that were premised on its “American Blind” and “American Blinds” marks, which the Court held were descriptive.  Because ABWF did not submit sufficient evidence to establish that these (then) common law marks had developed sufficient secondary meaning to be entitled to protection from Google’s conduct at the time Google began its allegedly infringing activity, the Court dismissed so much of ABWF’s claims as were grounded on the alleged use of its American Blind and American Blinds marks.

Finally, the Court dismissed ABWF’s Federal and California dilution claims, finding that ABWF had failed to submit sufficient evidence that its marks were “famous,” a prerequisite to such dilution claims.  It should be noted that the court designated its decision as “not for citation.”

Civ. Action No. 1:04cv507 (E.D., Va., December 15, 2004)

In a bench ruling, Court holds that the display by search engine giant Google of third party advertisements denominated "sponsored links", which ads are triggered by the entry of a trademark as a search term, does not run afoul of the Lanham Act provided the "sponsored links" do not contain the searched-for trademark.  However, the display of "sponsored links" which do contain the searched-for trademark are likely to confuse consumers and thus was held to run afoul of the Lanham Act.

The Court did not resolve the issue of Google's potential liability for the display of such third party ads, noting that Google had a policy prohibiting its advertisers from displaying "sponsored links" containing trademarks of third parties when such marks are used as the triggering search term.  It should also be noted that the Court's finding that consumers would not be confused by "sponsored links" that did not contain a trademark was based, in large part, on its rejection of survey evidence presented by the mark holder.  The Court rejected this evidence, despite its showing of consumer confusion, because the consumers were simultaneously shown both ads that did and did not contain the trademarked term.

1:04cv507 (LMB/TCB) (E.D. Va. August 25, 2004)

Court denies motion to dismiss brought by search giants Google and Overture, and allows plaintiff GEICO to proceed with trademark infringement and unfair competition claims arising out of defendants' alleged practice of selling advertising triggered by the entry of plaintiff's trademarks as search terms, which advertisements are displayed in the search results generated by such searches.

2007 WL 530156, Civ. Act. No. 06-319-JJF (D. Del. February 20, 2007)

The Court held that the First Amendment, and the guaranties afforded Google and Yahoo thereunder, barred claims seeking redress as a result of Google and Yahoo's refusal to run advertisements on their search engines they did not wish to run.  In reaching this result, the Court followed decisions that afforded newspapers similar First Amendment protections when challenges arose concerning their refusal to run advertisements they deemed objectionable.  As a result, the Court dismissed claims advanced by plaintiff arising out of the defendants' refusal to run his advertisements, including claims that the defendants defrauded him and engaged in deceptive business practices, violated his First Amendment rights, and failed to meet the duties imposed on those, like inn keepers, engaged in a public calling.

The Court also held that Google and Yahoo were immunized from such claims by the Communications Decency Act, 27 U.S.C. Section 230, which "bars 'lawsuits seeking to hold a service provider liable for its exercise of a publisher's traditional editorial functions - such as deciding whether to publish, withdraw, alter or postpone content.'" It should be noted that plaintiff was proceeding pro se.

425 F.Supp.2d 402 (S.D.N.Y., March 30, 2006)

In six related lawsuits arising out of the sale by online Canadian-based pharmacies of both branded and generic versions of plaintiff's popular anticholesterol medication "Zocor," the Court granted motions to dismiss trademark infringement claims challenging defendants' purchase of the keyword "Zocor" from search engines to trigger the display of "sponsored links" to defendants' websites.  Such purchases do not constitute the requisite 'use in commerce' of plaintiff's mark necessary to sustain such claims.  The Court also granted defendant CrossBorder's motion to dismiss trademark infringement claims arising out of its use of plaintiff's trademark "Zocor" on its website, at which CrossBorder sold both plaintiff's own product, as well as a generic version described as "generic simvastatin."  "Simvastatin" is the active ingredient in "Zocor."  Because it sold branded Zocor at its website, this was a permitted fair use of plaintiff's mark.

The Court declined at this early stage of the proceedings to dismiss the trademark infringement and dilution claims advanced against the remaining defendants.  Defendants link the "Zocor" mark to web pages at which they sold both branded Zocor and generic products described alternatively as "generic Zocor," "Zocor generic" or "Zocor-generic."  The Court was unwilling on this motion to determine whether such uses were likely to confuse consumers as to the source and sponsorship of these generic products, and hence unwilling to declare them permitted fair uses of plaintiff's trademarks.

Finally, the Court granted the motion to dismiss for want of personal jurisdiction of defendant CanadaDrug's CEO.  This individual, a Canadian resident, was neither alleged to have personally undertaken any actions in the United States in furtherance of the infringing activities at issue, nor been a "primary actor" therein.

WIPO Case No. D2007-1141 (November 30, 2007)

In this domain name dispute decided in accordance with the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (“UDRP”), the Panel holds that respondent Navigation Catalyst Systems Inc. (“NCS”) violated the UDRP by registering 35 domain names that contained complainant’s “myxer tones” mark, or variations thereof, which NCS used as pay-per-click landing pages, featuring advertisements of complainant’s competitors.  In reaching this result, the Panel held that respondent’s use of another’s mark in the domain names of pay-per-click landing pages was not a legitimate use of the domain sufficient to defeat complainant’s claim under the UDRP.  The Panel further held that respondent had acted with the requisite bad faith because it had used complainant’s mark to attract users to  advertisements for its competitors.  This finding was supported by the fact that respondent continued to register offending domain names even after the commencement of the instant UDRP proceeding.  Finally, the Panel rejected respondent’s contention that it did not act in bad faith because it was unaware of complainant’s mark.  The Panel held it was reasonable to conclude that respondent was in fact aware of complainant’s prior use of its mark at the time it registered the domains in question because a trademark and even an internet search would have revealed both a pending trademark application for complainant’s mark, and its use thereof.

06 Civ. 1923 (JGK) (S.D.N.Y., March 12, 2007)

Court allows plaintiff to proceed with ‘click-fraud’ claim against defendant, a search engine operator.  The complaint alleged that to increase its revenues from pay-per-click advertisements posted on its site by plaintiff, defendant directed defendant to engage ‘bots’ and individuals to click on plaintiff’s advertisements.  This had the effect of increasing defendant’s revenues, as plaintiff paid it on a pay-per-click basis.  The complaint alleged that defendant Findwhat also bid on pay-per-click search terms, thereby improperly increasing the price plaintiff had to bid therefore to obtain higher placement for such terms.  The Court held that such misconduct could run afoul of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in the parties’ contract, and accordingly allowed plaintiff to proceed with a breach of contract claim against defendant changed its name to Miva, Inc. in June 2005.

The Court did dismiss the balance of the claims plaintiff asserted.  Its unjust enrichment claims failed because there was a valid contract governing the subject matter of plaintiff’s claim.  Plaintiff’s negligence claims failed because of the absence of any independent duty on the part of defendant to monitor the source of the ‘clicks’ plaintiff received.  Such an obligation would be governed by the terms of the parties’ contract. 

Finally, plaintiff’s fraudulent concealment claim failed because of plaintiff’s failure to plead such claim with the requisite particularity.  Plaintiff was granted leave to replead this claim, premised on defendant’s alleged duty to disclose that it was improperly causing a third party to click on plaintiff’s ads so as to increase’s revenues.  Such a claim, if properly alleged, would serve to support a civil conspiracy claim against defendant, which was the party that allegedly arranged to have a ‘bot’ click on plaintiff’s ads.

354 F.3d 1020 (9th Cir., Jan. 14, 2004)

Reversing the decision of the court below, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the motion of defendants Netscape Communications Corp. ("Netscape") and Excite, Inc. ("Excite")  for summary judgment, and allowed plaintiff Playboy Enterprises Inc. ("Playboy") to proceed with trademark infringement and dilution claims brought as a result of defendants' practice of keying banner ads for 'adult' products to plaintiff's trademarks.  Keying is a practice used by the operators of search engines to generate revenue via the sale of banner ads.  For a fee, the search engine operator will display an advertiser's ad along with, and on, a search results page, when a consumer types one of a series of designated terms into the operator's search engine.  In this fashion, defendants keyed the display of their clients' adult-oriented ads to plaintiff's marks.  The Ninth Circuit held that when the advertiser's banner ad is not labeled so as to identify its source, this practice could result in trademark infringement by application of the 'initial interest confusion' doctrine.  The Ninth Circuit accordingly refused to dismiss plaintiff's trademark infringement claims.  The Ninth Circuit further held that issues of fact also precluded the dismissal of plaintiff's dilution claims.

Judge Berzon wrote a concurring opinion, in which he sharply criticized Brookfield Communications, the Ninth Circuit decision from which the 'initial interest confusion' doctrine springs, and the overbroad interpretation he believes it has been given by other jurists. Specifically, Judge Berzon believes that keying clearly labeled ads to plaintiff's marks should not give rise to a trademark infringement claim because the consumer is not confused when he elects to visit the clearly labeled web site of the mark holder's competitor, in lieu of that of the mark holder.

456 F.Supp.2d 393 (N.D.N.Y., September 28, 2006)

Federal District Court holds that Google's use of plaintiff's trademark "Rescuecom" as a keyword in Google's "Ad words" program to trigger the display of "sponsored link" advertisements from third party competitors for a fee is not a "trademark use" of plaintiff's mark, as the mark is not being used to identify the source of any goods or services.  The same holds true of Google's use of plaintiff's trademark in its "Keyword Suggestion Tool," in which Google recommends to potential advertisers, including plaintiff's competitors, keywords they may be interested in using, for a fee, as a trigger for the display of their advertising.  Notably the advertisements themselves, which appear along with search results for plaintiff's mark, were not alleged to display plaintiff's Rescuecom mark. 

As a result, the Court grants Google's motion to dismiss trademark infringement, unfair competition and dilution claims brought by plaintiff under the Lanham Act, as such claims require a showing of actionable "trademark use" which, the Court holds, Rescuecom cannot make.  Having dismissed plaintiff's federal claims, the Court declined to exercise pendant jurisdiction over plaintiff's state law claims, including a claim for tortuous interference.

In reaching this result, the District Court elected not to follow decisions reached by the courts in Geico v. Google, 330 F.Supp. 2d 700 (E.D. Va. 2004) and Edina Realty v. MLS, 2006 WL 737064 (D.Minn., March 20, 2006) which had denied motions to dismiss trademark infringement claims arising out of similar activity.  The Court, instead, followed the path taken by the court in Merck & Co. Inc. v. Mediplan Health Consulting, Inc., 425 F.Supp. 2d 402 (S.D.N.Y. 2006), which dismissed similar claims on the ground, inter alia, that there was no "trademark use."

497 F.3d 144 (2d Cir., August 9, 2007)

Second Circuit holds plaintiff Time Warner Cable Inc. (“Time Warner”) likely to prevail on false advertising claims advanced under Section 43 of the Lanham Act as a result television advertisements defendant Directv ran, which were found to be literally false.  Affirming the decision of the District Court, the Second Circuit held that, when seen in context, these advertisements falsely claim that the quality of the picture a user of an HD TV receives from Directv is better than the picture received from Time Warner cable.  Irreparable injury was presumed because, even though the advertisements at issue did not directly refer to Time Warner, the viewing audience would see the advertisement as targeted at plaintiff.  As a result, the Second Circuit affirmed so much of the District Court’s decision that enjoined Directv from further publication of these offending advertisements in markets where Time Warner operates.

In reaching this result, the Second Circuit held that an “advertisement can be literally false even though it does not explicitly make a false assertion, if the words or images, considered in context, necessarily and unambiguously imply a false message.”

The Second Circuit held, however, that internet banner advertisements that promoted Directv’s products, while literally false, constituted non-actionable puffery, because they made claims so exaggerated that no consumer could rely on them.  The banner advertisements at issue depicted a split screen.  One side of the screen presented a clear, crisp picture that was represented to be the picture a user would view if receiving his signal from Directv.  The other side of the screen contained a picture that was blurry and pixilated, which was represented as the picture the consumer would see if receiving a signal from “other tv”, or “basic cable.”  The ads urged consumers to “find out why Directv’s picture beats cable.”  While this depiction was literally and demonstrably false, because the pictures from both sources were equivalent, the Second Circuit held it was so exaggerated as to constitute non-actionable puffery on which no consumer could rely.  As a result, the Second Circuit reversed so much of the District Court’s decision which enjoined Directv from continuing to run these banner advertisements. 

Said the Court: “[T]he category of non-actionable puffery encompasses visual depictions that, while factually inaccurate, are so grossly exaggerated that no reasonable consumer would rely on them in navigating the marketplace.”

279 F. Supp.2d 723 (E.D. Va., September 5, 2003)

Court grants defendants' motion for summary judgment, and dismisses trademark infringement, copyright infringement and unfair competition claims brought by website owner against distributor of pop-up ads.  Defendants distribute a software program, which causes pop-up ads to be displayed on a user's computer screen in a window that covers all or part of plaintiff's website.  The court held that such conduct does not constitute a use of plaintiff's trademark, a prerequisite to a trademark infringement claim.  Quite the contrary, the display results from the computer user's consensual download of defendants' software, and his ability to control, via the multitasking capabilities of window's operating environment, what appears on his own computer screen.  Similarly, defendants' acts do not infringe plaintiff's copyright in the material that appears on plaintiff's website, because defendants neither display plaintiff's copyrighted materials nor make a derivative work thereof.  Defendants' ads instead appear in a separate window on a user's computer screen, which operates independently of plaintiff's website, and leaves the content appearing thereon untouched.

CV-05-457-TUC-DCB (D. Az., Mar. 2, 2007)

Denying cross-motions for summary judgment, the Court allows the Government to pursue civil claims against defendant Cyberheat Inc. ("Cyberheat") for violation of the CAN-SPAM Act arising out of the transmission of sexually explicit emails by its affiliates that did not meet the strictures of the Act.  While Cyberheat did not directly pay its affiliates to transmit such emails, it paid them "finder's fees" for subscribers their promotional activities produced - including subscribers produced by email - and provided affiliates with promotional materials that could be used - via links - in promotional emails.  The court held that questions of fact as to defendant's knowledge of its affiliates' activities, and the steps defendant could or did take to prevent violations of the Act after it became aware of consumer complaints, prevented the court from determining whether Cyberheat should be held either vicariously liable for the acts of its affiliates, or to have initiated or procured the transmission of the offending emails within the meaning of the CAN-SPAM Act.   The court reached this result notwithstanding the fact that Cyberheat's contracts with its affiliates contained explicit prohibitions against the transmission of emails that violate CAN-SPAM.

The court held that because it was in the business of sending sexually explicit materials over the Internet, defendant owed a duty to the public to exercise reasonable care to prevent those who did not wish to see such materials from being involuntarily exposed to such uninvited intrusions.  The question of whether defendant Cyberheat met this duty was left for another day.

C.A. No. 02-909-A (E.D. Va., July 12, 2002)

Court issues a preliminary injunction, enjoining defendant Gator Corporation ("Gator") from causing pop-up ads to appear on a user's computer screen at the same time the user is viewing any of the 16 web sites operated by the plaintiff news organizations.  Such ads appear as a result of the operation of Gator's software, which a user has installed on his computer.  Gator's software apparently tracks the user's Internet usage, and delivers ads to his computer that defendant believes will interest the user based on his prior Internet usage  When these ads appear on a user's screen, they partially cover up the web site that also appears there.  Gator did not have plaintiffs' permission to cause ads to appear in this fashion.  The court held that plaintiffs were likely to prevail on their claim that causing pop-up ads to appear in this manner is an infringement of plaintiffs' trademarks, which are found on the web pages the pop-up ads partially cover up.   The court accordingly issued a preliminary injunction enjoining defendant from continuing this activity "on" plaintiffs' sites.

293 F.Supp.2d 734 (E.D. Mich., November 19, 2003)

Court denies website operators' application for a preliminary injunction, and refuses to enjoin defendant, Inc. from delivering advertisements, triggered by a computer user's visit to plaintiffs' sites, that either pop-up or under those sites.  Defendant WhenU delivers such ads via its software applications Save and Save Now!  These applications are typically consensually downloaded by the user to his or her computer as the quid pro quo of his free receipt of another software application.

The Court held that WhenU's delivery of these ads neither infringes the trademarks found on plaintiffs' sites, nor their copyrights in the material thereon.  WhenU's activities - including the use of plaintiffs' marks in a directory which determines the ads a user receives, and the display of ads in windows that partially obscure plaintiffs' websites but do not contain plaintiffs' marks - do not constitute a use of plaintiffs' marks in commerce, a prerequisite to a trademark infringement claim.  Plaintiffs' trademark infringements claims also failed because plaintiffs did not present evidence sufficient to establish that users would likely be confused by WhenU's activities, and conclude that plaintiffs sponsored WhenU's ads.  Rather, the Court held, users with Save and Save Now! installed on their computers are likely to conclude that WhenU is the sponsor of the ads in question, both because the ads so inform the user, and because of their familiarity with such displays.

The Court held that plaintiffs' copyright infringement claims failed because the appearance of WhenU's ads in a window that partially obscures plaintiffs' sites does not constitute the creation of an unauthorized derivative work in violation of plaintiffs' exclusive right to create the same.  Rather, plaintiffs' copyrighted works - the content of their websites - remain unaltered on the servers on which they are hosted, and simply appear simultaneously with WhenU's advertisements in separate windows opened by and with the consent of the user on whose computer screen they appear.  Plaintiffs' copyright infringement claims also failed because any images appearing on a user's screen are simply too transitory to constitute the creation of a work.  As such, WhenU and the users cannot be held to have created a derivative work, and thus cannot be held to have infringed plaintiffs' copyrights.

No. 040907578 (Utah Dist. Ct., June 22, 2004)

Court issues preliminary injunction, enjoining enforcement of Utah's Spyware Control Act, which, inter alia, prohibits the delivery of 'pop-up' ads that obscure any portion of an Internet website, and bars advertisers from downloading programs that deliver ads to a consumer's computer unless the consumer's consent to such download is obtained in the manner specified by the Act.  The Court issued such relief because it found that plaintiff was likely to prevail on its claim that those portions of the Act run afoul of the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.

Quick Hits

Boston Duck Tours, L.P. v. Super Duck Tours, LLC, et al.
Civ. Act. No. 07-11222-NMG (D. Mass., December 5, 2007).

Court holds that competitor’s purchase of sponsored links from Google that are triggered by the entry of plaintiff’s “Boston Duck Tours” mark constitute a trademark use of plaintiff’s mark actionable under the Lanham Act.  Recognizing that the courts have reached conflicting answers to this question, the Court stated:

In short, the emerging view outside of the Second Circuit is in accord with the plain language of the statute.  Because sponsored linking necessarily entails the ‘use’ of the plaintiff’s mark as part of a mechanism of advertising, it is ‘use’ for Lanham Act purposes.

The Court further holds that the display of such sponsored link advertisements by defendant in the case at bar does not violate either the Lanham Act, or a prior preliminary injunction issued by the Court, because the ads market defendant as “Super Duck Excursions” and ‘serve[] to distinguish the defendant from the plaintiff.”  The preliminary injunction previously issued by the Court had enjoined defendant from continuing to use the phrase “duck tours” as a trademark or service mark in the greater Boston area, as such use was likely to infringe plaintiff’s ‘Boston Duck Tours’ mark.  As a result, defendant had changed its name from “Super Duck Tours” to “Super Duck Excursions.”

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Buying for the Home, LLC v. Humble Abode LLC
Civ. Act. No. 03-cv-2783 (JAP) (D.N.J., Oct. 19, 2006)

Court holds that alleged purchase and use of a competitor’s trade marks as key words to trigger the display of sponsored ads in a search engine is a use of that mark in commerce subject to the strictures of the Lanham Act.  The ads in question did not feature the searched-for mark.  Said the District Court of New Jersey:

The Court is mindful of the challenges that sometime arise in applying existing legal principles in the context of newer technologies.  As expressed by the Edina Realty court, supra, Defendants’ alleged use of Plaintiff’s mark is certainly not a traditional ‘use I commerce.’  Nonetheless, the Court finds Plaintiff has satisfied the ‘use’ requirement of the Lanham Act in that Defendants’ alleged use was ‘in commerce’ and was ‘in connection with any goods or services.’15 U.S.C. Section 1125(a)(1).  First, the alleged purchase of the keyword was a commercial transaction that occurred “in commerce,’ trading on the value of Plaintiff’s mark.  Second, Defendants’ alleged use was both “in commerce” and “in connection with any goods or services” in that Plaintiff’s mark was allegedly used to trigger commercial advertising which included a link to Defendants’ furniture retailing website.  Therefore, not only was the alleged use of Plaintiff’s mark tied to the promotion of Defendants’ goods and retail services, but the mark was used to provide a computer user with direct access (i.e. a link) to Defendants’ website through which the user could make furniture purchases.  The court finds that these allegations clearly satisfy the Lanham Act’s “use” requirements.

Download PDF of Court Decision, Inc. v., et al.
No. 06-CV-2225 (JFB)(ART)(E.D.N.Y., June 12, 2007)

Following the lead of the Second Circuit in 1-800 Contacts, Inc. v., 414 F.3rd 400 (2d Cir. 2005) and of other district courts in the Second Circuit, the Court holds that the use of plaintiff’s mark either as a keyword to prompt the appearance of sponsored links advertising defendant’s site in Google’s search engine, or in the metatags of defendant’s site to trigger higher search engine placement, does not constitute a use in commerce of plaintiff’s mark sufficient to give rise to trademark infringement or dilution claims, either under the Lanham Act or New York state law.  Such use of plaintiff’s mark, reasoned the court, is the equivalent to store product placement, where the store places its own generic products on store shelves adjacent to more well-known brands to take advantage of the consumer’s attraction thereto.  As such a use is permissible, so to is the use of plaintiff’s mark in keyword advertising. 

The Court relied on decisions in Merck & Co., 425 F.Supp.2d 402, Rescuecom Corp. v. Google, Inc., 456 F.Supp.2d 393 (N.D.N.Y., 2006) , and Site Pro-1 Inc. v. Better Metal LLC, No. 06-CV-6508 (ILG)(RER)(EDNY, May 9, 2007), each of which “held that the purchase of a trademark as a ‘Sponsored Link’ is not ‘use’ within the meaning of the Lanham Act.” 

Said the Court:

It would be inconsistent with the reasoning set forth in 1-800 Contacts to conclude that the use of trademarks in keywords and metatags constitutes Lanham Act ‘use’ where, as here, defendant does not place the trademark on any product, good or service nor is it used in any way that would indicate source or origin.  Here, the use of plaintiff’s trademark is strictly internal, and, because such use is not communicated to the public, the use does not indicate source or origin of the mark.

As a result, the Court denied plaintiff’s motion to amend its complaint to assert, inter alia, claims of trademark infringement and dilution arising out of the use of its mark in keyword advertising and metatags.  The Court held that such amendment would be futile, as the proposed claims could not withstand a motion to dismiss.

In should be noted that, according to the court, ‘courts in other circuits have generally sustained such claim.’  However, the Court elected to follow the precedent cited above and deny plaintiff’s motion to amend.

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