Wisconsin Court: Search Marketers Can Use Rivals' Names To Trigger Ads

Gavel-AB1A law firm didn't violate Wisconsin's privacy law by using the names of rivals to trigger paid-search ads, a state appellate court ruled on Thursday.

The ruling affirmed a trial judge's dismissal of a lawsuit filed by personal injury lawyers Robert Habush and Daniel Rottier -- who are partners in Habush Habush & Rottier -- against the competing law firm Cannon & Dunphy.

The dispute between the two law firms dates to 2009, when Cannon & Dunphy started running a search campaign that used the names "Habush" and "Rottier" to trigger paid ads. Habush and Rottier alleged that this marketing initiative violated a Wisconsin statute prohibiting the use of people's names in ads without their consent.

A three-judge panel of Wisconsin's Court of Appeals rejected that argument on Thursday, ruling that the use of names to trigger search ads isn't covered by the privacy statute. "The allegedly improper 'use' is merely a mechanism by which Cannon & Dunphy places its advertising near a link to information about Habush Habush & Rottier," the court wrote in an 18-page ruling.



The judges added that running a search campaign that draws on a rival's name is comparable to physically locating a business near a competitor.

"This strategy undeniably takes advantage of the name of the established business and its ability to draw potential customers, but the strategy does not 'use' the name of the business in the same way as putting the name or image of the business in an advertisement or on a product," the court wrote. "Although the question is a close one, we think the strategy used by Cannon & Dunphy here is akin to locating a new Cannon & Dunphy branch office next to an established Habush Habush & Rottier office."

James Clark, the lawyer for Habush and Rottier, says his clients expect to ask the Wisconsin Supreme Court to review the case.




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