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Trademarks and the Internet Head Back to Court

By TON in Internet
Thu Jan 31, 2002 at 06:47:09 PM EST
Tags: News (all tags)

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Verne Kopytoff has a story on a lawsuit against search engines using pay-for-placement. Mark Nutritionals has filed civil suits against search engines AltaVista, Overture (formerly GoTo.com), FindWhat and Kanoodle. Essentially, Mark Nutritionals feels they are being forced to pay "online extortion."

Also, Wired has a story about an on-going lawsuit (Nissan v. Nissan) over trademarks in domain names that may set some precedents for the current case. According to The Chronicle, a "judge has said, 'There appears to be no good cause' for search terms to be unprotected from trademark infringement." You can also read a plea from Uzi Nissan here.

These court cases may have serious repercussions for businesses and consumers online.

There have been many stories on various domain name squabbles. There has also been much discussion of the "Google Effect" on /., whereby domain registration seemed to be losing importance, as search engines, rather than direct URL input, direct traffic.

However, it appears that for businesses, securing a domain name and a trademark is no longer enough. In order to attract traffic, businesses may have to pay hefty advertising fees to appear near the top of search engine results, even when a user searches for the trademarked name of the business or product.

If the search engines lose this case, one of their primary sources of revenue may dry up. Search engines provide a valuable service which needs to be paid for somehow. How can good search resources be paid for without undermining the validity of the results? On the other hand, if the search engines win, trademark protections may become essentially worthless for many companies on-line, as deeper pockets will often be able to divert traffic away from small firms.

All the major search services and directories have some kind of paid links which come up as priority search results. These may be relatively benign text links, as on Google. Or, it may be more intrusive, such as Yahoo!'s "Inside Yahoo!" and "Sponsor Matches". These often fill the entire first screen of a search result. Users may find some of the rich variety of the web buried under an onslaught of links bidding for their attention.

As much as this is a problem for businesses, it's also a potential problem for consumers. Even if you know the exact product name, you may be directed to a competitor by some search engines. This is different from the well-known problem of info-glut. We may see info-glut come to be explicitly created, sponsored, and directed at web users to literally bury the competition. Will the value and usability of the web be significantly decreased if all users have to use more and more complex "advanced searches" in order to locate unbiased information?


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Related Links
o Yahoo
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o Verne Kopytoff
o story
o Wired
o story [2]
o here
o "Google Effect"
o Also by TON

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Trademarks and the Internet Head Back to Court | 8 comments (6 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
The case has no merit (4.00 / 4) (#2)
by binaryalchemy on Thu Jan 31, 2002 at 04:13:44 PM EST

Because it would be like forcing the phone company to give everyone a free full page add in the yellow pages "just to be fair". If the search engines we're faking urls or redirecting people without telling them there might be a complaint, but as it stands it's like complaining that you get a bigger ad in the yellow pages for $50 than you do for $10. This is just another case of trademark being take too far on the Internet, next thing you know the companies are going to want to bill you every time you say their name.
Defending the GPL from a commercial perspective is like defending the Microsft EULA from a moral perspective. - quartz
Yep (3.00 / 1) (#5)
by Danse on Thu Jan 31, 2002 at 05:56:21 PM EST

If you want good results, you use Google. If you want commercials, you use one of the others.

An honest debate between Bush and Kerry
[ Parent ]
Google not completely innocent either (none / 0) (#8)
by gnarled on Fri Feb 01, 2002 at 09:22:07 PM EST

If you go to google and search for something fairly general and commercial such as "cars" you will get the first two results as advertisements. However, these are both highlighted and denoted as a "Sponsered Link." I have nothing against this practice at all, it is clear, not deceptive, and if it keeps pop-ups and huge banners saying "Punch the Monkey!!" off of google I am happy. I do feel that the more deceptive practices that engines such as altavista employ are unfair, but I'm not sure if they are really illegal.
I'm a firm believer in the philosophy of a ruling class. Especially since I rule. -Randal, Clerks
[ Parent ]
Cases with no merit (4.50 / 2) (#7)
by TON on Thu Jan 31, 2002 at 07:10:31 PM EST

Cases that many people think are of no merit are tried in the courts all the time. Unfortunately, even if you think it is of no merit, and many others think it is of no merit, it may become the law. This will effect you whether you like it or not.

Preliminary statements (as quoted in the intro) seem to indicate that trademark protection may be extended to search terms. Then, even Google will not make money from simple text ads. This may effect you and me, like it or not.

The Yellow Pages analogy doesn't quite work without a White Pages. Right now, it seems that search engines are trying to be both at the same time.

"First, I am born. Then, the trouble begins." -- Schizopolis


[ Parent ]

very good read... (4.50 / 2) (#3)
by dannu on Thu Jan 31, 2002 at 05:19:42 PM EST

this articles makes some very good and clear points.

To me it feels as if the corporations increase their control of the net and generally their mind-share every day.

An example from today: Spain is about to make a law called "LSSI" (spanish) where every internet link is considered an advertisement so that e.g. trademark laws apply. The spanish state secretary for information services even thinks that every information on the net equals "e-commerce". This paradigms have a HUGE impact.

There are a lot more issues with LSSI so if a spanish speaking person would investigate starting maybe here (spanish) and make an article on kuro5hin, that would be great.

Fortunatley, there are strong forces on the other site (free software and a bazillion communities come to mind). It ain't over yet.

Bad search engine (4.00 / 1) (#6)
by Frijoles on Thu Jan 31, 2002 at 06:57:53 PM EST

Maybe it's just me, but if I were using a search engine to look up X company, and they sent me to Y company, I'd be upset. If they did this to me on more than one occasion, I'd go elsewhere for searches. A search engine that misleads their audience won't last too long, IMO. Maybe I'm just misunderstanding the situation though.

I know search engines will put other topics at the top of the list.. for instance, you searched for Honda, perhaps you would like to view these other sites as well (other car manufacturers). So long as the list isn't taking up the first 5 pages, and so long as I can still get to my original intended search, I say go for it. They need to make their money somehow. And who knows, maybe I did want to search for something else.

Trademarks and the Internet Head Back to Court | 8 comments (6 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
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