US Court Rules Trademarks In Meta Tags Can Constitute Infringement

Eric Goldman reports that an 11th circuit, US Court of Appeals has upheld a district court’s decision that the use of trademarked terms in meta tags can cause confusion and thus can constitute trademark infringement.

North American Medical Corp. v. Axiom Worldwide, Inc. docket number 06-01678 CV-JTC-1 (PDF) doesn’t specifically say if the trademarked terms were in the keywords meta tag, description meta tag or some other meta tag. But the ruling is that Axiom, who used North American Medical Corp’s trademark in their meta tags, is in violation of trademark infringement. The specific keywords were “Accu-Spina” and “IDD Therapy,” and Axiom, at one point, ranked well for those terms in Google.

The court document does say, “Google provided the searcher with a brief description of Axiom’s website, and the description included these terms and highlighted them,” which implies the tag was in the meta description. In that case, if Google highlighted those terms and the page did rank well for the terms, then it is logical to see why a court would find confusion in that.

Eric Goldman is dead on by saying:

The court does not exhibit any understanding of anchor text or the fact that Google sometimes automatically assembles search result descriptions using third party content (such as DMOZ).

But in this case, I do not think Axiom denied placing those terms in their meta tags. The question Goldman has is, did the meta tags influence the site to rank for those terms? Google has told us they ignore the keywords meta tag, but said they do use the meta description tag. But would the meta description tag alone be enough to rank a site for? Hard to say. But if you add some links to the equation, then it is a no brainer.

In any event, Eric Goldman does not seem to be a fan of the court’s ruling. However, he does warn SEOs:

(1) Have legal check your meta descriptions just like any ad copy you would run. (2) Make sure competitive trademarked terms do not appear in your meta tags. “They don’t buy you much juice with the search engines anyway, and it will leave you exposed to irrational judicial freakouts about keyword metatags if ever tested in court,” Goldman said.

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Legal: Trademarks

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About The Author: is Search Engine Land's News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry's personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here. For more background information on Barry, see his full bio over here.

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