Trade-mark and Metatag Litigation

A recent US Court of Appeal decision (North American Medical Corp. v. Axiom Worldwide, Inc., 2008 WL 918411, 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, April 7, 2008) deals with meta-tags and trade-mark infringement.  In a nutshell, the court agreed that the use of a competitor’s trade-marks in metatags constitutes infringement.  This decision is the latest, but does not settle the matter in the US; first, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has applied different reasoning, and next, the changing nature of metatags requires a more sophisticated analysis of how search engines produce results. 

In Canada, the decision in BCAA et al. v. Office and Professional Employees’ Int. Union et al., 2001 BCSC 156 (CanLII) is still one of the most-cited case on the topic of trade-marks and metatags.  In the midst of a labour dispute, a disgruntled union used the BCAA’s metatags in a union protest site.  The court found that one of the early versions of the union’s site did constitute passing-off.  However, both the North American Medical case and the BCAA case illustrate the problem posed by changing technology. 

In BCAA, the court noted that: “When search engines gather information they seek out and obtain the information in the meta tags.  Meta tags are used by most search engines and directories to gather information.”  This statement is no longer accurate, because of the way search engine technology has evolved.  New court decisions will have to catch up to the search engines.

In the meantime, don’t use competitor’s trademarks in your website metatags – it won’t do you much good in search engine rankings, and the courts are clear that it will be perceived as infringement.

Calgary – 10:15 MST

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