Watch manufacturer Multi Time Machine is asking a federal appellate court to rule that Amazon infringes trademark with its internal search engine.
Multi Time sells watches for up to $2,000 under the names MTM Special Ops” and “MTM Military Ops.” The company -- which doesn't sell merchandise on Amazon -- alleges that users who search for one of its brand names on Amazon's site are shown ads for watches made by other rivals.
“This constitutes an infringement,” Multi Time Machine argues in its 2011 complaint against Amazon. The watchmaker adds that Amazon is misleading consumers into thinking that they're viewing ads for Multi Time products.
Amazon has countered that the case should be dismissed because “no reasonable fact finder could conclude that a consumer is likely to be confused over the source of clearly identified products.”
In February, U.S. District Court Judge Dean Pregerson in the Central District of California granted Amazon summary judgment. Pregerson held that Multi Time Machine didn't prove that Amazon's search results were likely to confuse consumers.
He noted in a 23-page decision that the watch maker “did not conduct a study to determine whether users of Amazon are likely to be confused as to source.” Without that type of study, the company didn't show that consumers are confused about whether they're viewing ads for Multi Time watches or those of its competitors.
Multi Time has now filed an appeal with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The ruling in the case could ultimately affect practices at all companies that operate search engines.
Google has been accused repeatedly of infringing trademark by allowing companies to use their rivals brand names to trigger search ads. To date, no court has ruled that doing so automatically infringes trademark.
But Google recently suffered a setback when the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a trademark infringement lawsuit by Rosetta Stone was prematurely dismissed. In that case, Rosetta Stone alleged that its trademark was being used by counterfeiters, who duped consumers into purchasing fake software.
U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Bruce Lee in Alexandria, Va. dismissed the case before trial, but the 4th Circuit ruled that Rosetta Stone had presented enough evidence to justify a trial. Google and Rosetta Stone later reached a settlement.