For years now The Net Impact has been working with clients on the slow and painful process of getting competitors and just plain “traffic trap” sites to stop using trademarked names and terms. In some cases webmasters have inserted competitors names and products right into the titles and descriptions of landing pages engineered to steer searchers to their site rather than the intended destination. E-mails, threatening letters and phone calls from unleashed attorneys can eventually have impact but that is all corrective action after the fact. In some cases the lost sales or even worse, the potential brand confusion that can occur during the misuse interim can be substantial.
This particular “Wild, Wild West” frontier of the web may be coming to a close. According to an April 8th post in Search Engine Watch by Frank Watson titled, Others’ Trademark Terms in Meta Tags Illegal: Georgia Court Rule, there finally may be some definitive standards being put into place. Frank does a great job of defining the issues in this particular case so there is no reason for me to repeat those. From a white hat perspective, all SEO firms have known that this practice was unethical if not defined yet as illegal. Still there were times when a site owner found their site in competition for their own brand with interlopers. This being a state court ruling of course means that we could be 49 decisions away from a standard. Trying to nail down web legalities to physical borders is at the basic level very messy as we have seen in a wide variety of issues including online sales tax, wine sales, privacy, spam and the ADA.
Also to be interpreted (or misinterpreted based upon your side of the courtroom) still are issues related to very generic trademarks. Frank Watson points to the term “Kleenex” in his blog. Eric Goldman in a July 5th post last year titled, Google Subpoenaed for Keyword Purchase Data–Rhino Sports v. Sport Court directly displays how the trademarked term as a common use term issue can become very litigation friendly and involve parties large and small. Google seems to frequently find itself embroiled at least in the headlines for this type of case. Sometimes maybe it’s not so good to be the king.
We will undoubtedly see additional rulings in this arena very shortly. In the meantime, The Net Impact aggressively searches the web through automated (such as Google alerts) and manual efforts looking out for our clients and of course our own growing brands. Like every other element affecting Internet marketing, this one will continue to require study and vigilance. The Wild, Wild West may be getting a little tamer.