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Appeals Court Finds Potential For Confusion In Amazon’s Product Search Results
The 2-1 decision finds that Amazon doesn't label its search results pages clearly enough when it doesn't carry a company's products.
A trademark lawsuit brought against Amazon.com is headed back to the courts after the plaintiff won an appeal today in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
As Geekwire reports, the suit concerns the way that Amazon shows search results for products that it doesn’t carry. Today’s 2-1 appellate court decision (PDF) ruled that “a jury could find that Amazon had created a likelihood of confusion,” and sends the case back for trial.
The trademark infringement suit is being brought by Multi Time Machine (MTM), a maker of military-style watches that doesn’t sell any products through Amazon.com. It accuses Amazon of violating its trademark and creating “initial interest confusion” by showing competitors’ military-style watches on MTM-related searches, including the trademarked phrase “MTM Special Ops.”
The appellate court reversed a previous ruling in Amazon’s favor, and took specific exception with the way the search results above are presented:
If [a consumer] were to enter “MTM Special Ops” as her search request on the Amazon website, Amazon would respond with its page showing MTM Special Ops (1) in the search field (2) “MTM Specials Ops” again — in quotation marks — immediately below the search field and (3) yet again in the phrase “Related Searches: MTM special ops watch,” all before stating “Showing 10 Results.” What the website’s response will not state is that Amazon does not carry MTM products. Rather, below the search field, and below the second and third mentions of “MTM Special Ops” noted above, the site will display aesthetically similar, multi-function watches manufactured by MTM’s competitors. The shopper will see that Luminox and Chase-Durer watches are offered for sale, in response to her MTM query.
The important point in there appears to be that Amazon never tells the shopper that it doesn’t carry the searched-for products. The appellate court’s decision today points out that other major e-commerce sites, including Buy.com and Overstock.com, “clearly announce” that none of their search results match the “MTM Special Ops” query before showing competitors’ products.
Depending how it plays out, the case could serve as a warning — and a guide — for all online retailers in how their websites respond to product searches that have no matching results. It’s common to show related products as Amazon does, but the appellate court is at least suggesting that doing so could cause trademark confusion if it’s not done carefully.
Amazon declined to give Geekwire a comment due to its policy against discussing ongoing litigation.