In a blow to luxury bedding company Comphy, a federal judge has refused to order Amazon to stop using the term “comphy” to market sheets.
U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez in Seattle said in a ruling issued this week that Comphy hadn't shown it was likely to prevail on a claim that its trademark is being infringed by Amazon.
But Martinez added that his decision was close, and that Amazon's actions “toe exceedingly narrow legal and equitable lines.”
The ruling grows out of a lawsuit filed by Comphy last July, when it alleged Amazon returned links to "inferior third-party sheets" in response to searches for terms like "comph" and "comphy."
Comphy, which says it doesn't sell its products on Amazon, contends those search results tricked consumers and also drove sales to competitors. The company's complaint says customers had complained about the "poor quality sheets" purchased on Amazon.
Comphy also alleged that Amazon used the word "Comphy" to trigger paid ads on Google and Bing -- activity that Comphy believes infringed its trademark.
Martinez said in a 21-page decision that Comphy wasn't entitled to an injunction prohibiting Amazon from how it used the word “comphy” on its own site, or to trigger ads at search engines operated by Google and Bing.
He gave several reasons for his decision, including that the name Comphy wasn't especially strong as a trademark, given that “comphy” can be a misspelling of “comfy” -- a common description for comfortable products.
Martinez also said in his ruling that people who search for the term “comphy” aren't necessarily looking for sheets sold by Comphy.
The judge noted Comphy's argument that consumers had complained of confusion after they purchased sheets through Amazon, but said customer confusion in itself doesn't mean a trademark was infringed.
“There is no question that Plaintiff presents evidence of actual confusion that is often compelling, including written reviews by verified purchasers,” Martinez wrote.
But the judge went on to rule that the critical question isn't whether some people were confused, but whether a “reasonably prudent consumer” would be.
Amazon previously won a similar lawsuit brought by the luxury watch company Multi-Time Machine, which sells $2,000 watches. That company contended its trademark was violated when Amazon displays watches by other manufacturers in response to searches for "Multi-Time Machine."
A federal appellate court rejected that argument in 2015, ruling that Amazon's search results pages don't confuse consumers.