Court Reverses Itself, Says Amazon's Search Results Don't Infringe Trademark

Amazon doesn't infringe watch manufacturer Multi-Time Machine's trademark by returning links to different brands, like Luminox and Chase-Durer, in response to searches for Multi-Time Machine, a divided panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said on Wednesday.

The decision reversed an earlier appellate ruling in the same case. That earlier ruling, issued in July, said Amazon potentially infringed trademark by causing so-called "initial interest confusion," which the judges described as confusion that "creates initial interest in a competitor's product."

The tech companies Google, Google, Twitter, Pinterest, eBay and Yahoo criticized the earlier decision, arguing that Amazon shouldn't have to face a trademark infringement lawsuit based on "a mere possibility of confusion by an unsophisticated consumer."

The companies also say they are concerned that the panel's opinion could "give rise to a tide of trademark lawsuits based on only a speculative possibility of confusion."

The digital rights groups Public Citizen and the Electronic Frontier Foundation also sided with Amazon. Those organizations argue that companies have drawn on the controversial "initial interest confusion" concept to attempt to suppress online speech.

Circuit Judge Barry Silverman, who dissented from the earlier ruling, wrote the new decision.

"The search results page makes clear to anyone who can read English that Amazon carries only the brands that are clearly and explicitly listed on the web page," Silverman writes. "The search results page is unambiguous -- not unlike when someone walks into a diner, asks for a Coke, and is told 'No Coke. Pepsi.'”

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