The Internet is a Series of Tubes

It’s frightening to see that smart people, e.g. judges, can’t seem to figure out how the web works yet are responsible for establishing legal precedent and making laws.

Even though meta tags are regularly ignored by search engines, and not visible to average site visitors, this ruling says that other company’s trademarks in you meta tags will leave you exposed to trademark infringement lawsuits. Amazing.

North American Medical Corp. v. Axiom Worldwide, Inc. docket number 06-01678 CV-JTC-1 (PDF) doesn’t specifically say if the trademarked terms were in the keywords meta tag, description meta tag or some other meta tag. But the ruling is that Axiom, who used North American Medical Corp’s trademark in their meta tags, is in violation of trademark infringement. The specific keywords were “Accu-Spina” and “IDD Therapy,” and Axiom, at one point, ranked well for those terms in Google.

[From US Court Rules Trademarks In Meta Tags Can Constitute Infringement]

2 thoughts on The Internet is a Series of Tubes

  1. Jeff,

    Surely then the same criticism could be leveled at Axiom for using them in the first place.

    I remember a similar case in the UK about 5 years ago, which reached the same conclusion, but I think you have to look at the motive here. Why would one company include the trademarks of another in their meta tags if not as an attempt to divert people to their own site? In the UK at least, this will be seen as a form of “passing off”.

    I agree that as a trademark infringement it doesn’t hold water, but – given your argument about how useless meta tags are – I think Axiom maybe got what it deserved.

  2. I don’t agree Niall.

    The mere use of a competitors name does not infringe on their trademark. A search on Google for any major company will reveal adsense links on the sidebar featuring that company’s name.

    I think you need to step back and recognize that in civil court there are several tests that must be met, the first being standing to sue but the second being that when you are suing for damages there is a requirement that you demonstrate actual damages. In this case we have Google et. al. saying they ignore meta tags and the hidden nature of such tags makes it increasingly difficult to say they were actual damages. The court found without evidence that Axiom benefited from trademark infringement in search results even though Google was on record saying they didn’t benefit in their system.

    Also, passing off is intended, here in the U.S. as a recourse for un-registered trademarks.

    You say “well the tags were there so they must be guilty of something” and I say the court should have something more conclusive than the observation that Axiom did well in search optimization so therefore they must have infringed on someone’s trademark.

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