Following last week’s post where Arnold J found Marks & Spencer liable for buying ads on the keyword INTERFLORA because of the initial interest confusion, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in the USA has heavily qualified when (perhaps that should be “if” or “if ever”) initial interest confusion can constitute trade mark infringement in the USA.
It involved Lens.com buying ads on the keyword, 1800contacts, for contact lenses.
The 10th Circuit upheld the trial judge’s exclusion of a consumer survey proferred by 1-800 Contacts to establish confusion. There were a number of reasons for its rejection including its flawed methodology. The 10th Circuit went on to conclude that the approximately 7% confusion shown by the survey would be insufficient to rise to trade mark infringement under US law. Accepting that each case depended on its own facts, the 10th Circuit endorsed the general proposition that:
The great weight of authority appears to be that “[w]hen the percentage results of a confusion survey dip below 10%, they can become evidence which will indicate that confusion is not likely.” 6 McCarthy § 32:189 at 32-440 (emphasis added by 10th Circuit).
One wonders whether an Australian court, which must ascertain whether a [substantial][OR a significant] number of the relevant audience might be caused to wonder, would be so robust as to conclude that 5% or 7% of the market was not a substantial (or significant) number?
Professors Goldman and Tushnet identify a range of reasons to regret the 10th Circuit’s decision not to drive a stake through the heart of initial interest confusion. Prof. Goldman does speculate, in particular, whether measuring “click-throughs” as a proxy for confusion could ever cross the 10% threshold.
Marks & Spencer has been found to have infringed Interflora’s trade mark in the UK by ‘buying’ ads triggered by Google searches for the keyword INTERFLORA.
An example of the ads Arnold J found infringing:
In Google France, the CJEU established that an advertiser would infringe a registered trade mark when its ads were triggered by a trade mark as a keyword where: 
“82 The essential function of a trade mark is to guarantee the identity of the origin of the marked goods or service to the consumer or end user by enabling him to distinguish the goods or service from others which have another origin (see, to that effect, Case C–39/97 Canon  ECR I–5507, paragraph 28, and Case C–120/04 Medion  ECR I–8551, paragraph 23).
83 The question whether that function of the trade mark is adversely affected when internet users are shown, on the basis of a keyword identical with a mark, a third party’s ad, such as that of a competitor of the proprietor of that mark, depends in particular on the manner in which that ad is presented.
84 The function of indicating the origin of the mark is adversely affected if the ad does not enable normally informed and reasonably attentive internet users, or enables them only with difficulty, to ascertain whether the goods or services referred to by the ad originate from the proprietor of the trade mark or an undertaking economically connected to it or, on the contrary, originate from a third party (see, to that effect, Céline, paragraph 27 and the case-law cited).
85 In such a situation, which is, moreover, characterised by the fact that the ad in question appears immediately after entry of the trade mark as a search term by the internet user concerned and is displayed at a point when the trade mark is, in its capacity as a search term, also displayed on the screen, the internet user may err as to the origin of the goods or services in question. In those circumstances, the use by the third party of the sign identical with the mark as a keyword triggering the display of that ad is liable to create the impression that there is a material link in the course of trade between the goods or services in question and the proprietor of the trade mark (see, by way of analogy, Arsenal Football Club, paragraph 56, and Case C–245/02 Anheuser-Busch  ECR I–10989, paragraph 60).
Arnold J found on the evidence that a significant section of the public were confused and so Marks & Spencer infringed.
It is not possible to do justice in a blog post to the full range of reasons contributing to his Lordship’s conclusion. Some that stand out follow.
Arnold J accepted (at ) that the majority of UK internet users appreciated the difference between paid ads and natural or organic search results, but there was still a significant proportion of internet users in the UK who did not. His Lordship also accepted that “nowadays” the majority of consumers appreciate .
nowadays the majority of consumers appreciate [they are being presented with ads by competitors to the brand they had searched for]. But I consider that a significant proportion do not. (emphasis supplied)
Secondly, the nature of the INTERFLORA brand appears to have been crucial. As you will no doubt be familiar, INTERFLORA is a network. It operates through a network of agents who are usually (always?) branded under their own names and trade marks. Those customers who were not buying online from “interflora.co.uk” or “interflora.com”, for example, would typically go into a retail outlet operating under its own name (and which may display the INTERFLORA name and logo).
The significance of this (at  and ) was that there was great potential for those customers who realised they were dealing with Marks & Spencer when they clicked on the ad mistakenly to think it was part of the INTERFLORA network.
That potential was in fact borne out by the evidence. In particular, there was evidence from “Hitwise data” that people who (1) searched on the keyword INTERFLORA and (2) as a result clicked on a Marks & Spencer ad generated in response to the search (3) were between 44 and 106 times more likely than the average visitor to the M & S flowers site to leave the M & S site without purchasing and instead go on to an INTERFLORA site.
At  – , his Lordship accepted the propositions that:
a significant number of consumers in Segment A decided after they had clicked through to the M & S website that it was not where they wanted to be and went to the Interflora website instead. The second is that the reason for this change of mind was that those consumers had clicked through from the M & S advertisement because they assumed from the appearance of the advertisement in response to their search that M & S was part of the Interflora network, but they realised that that was not the case when they clicked through to the M & S website and saw no reference to Interflora.
and such “initial interest” confusion was itself enough for trade mark infringement.
Thus, while Google doesn’t infringe by ‘selling’ keywords, the advertiser may and, in this case on Arnold J’s findings, did.
What, if anything, does it mean for us?
First off, the judgment is full of fascinating details about the “AdWords” and “search” market and the strategies that businesses deploy. For example, it appears that Google held around 90% of the global search (and paid advertising relating to search) market, with Bing and Yahoo! trailing out of site. There are also discussions of market research reports and Ofcom studies into what consumers understand when using the internet.
It is not clear whether Arnold J’s reasoning will provide us with much assistance here. First, while EU law does not appear to require use as a trade mark to infringe, the origin function referenced by the CJEU in Google France appears similar to our concept of use as a trade mark – as a badge of origin or to identify the trade source.
Secondly, it seems doubtful that the considerations identified in  of Google France would be relevant at all under our law. The idea of examining whether the “normally informed and reasonably attentive internet users” could ascertain the trade source from the ad, or do so “only with difficulty”, indicates that the content of the advertisment may make it clear that the trade mark owner is not the source of the advertised product. However, a registered trade mark is infringed in Australia even if the trade source is made clear, for example by a disclaimer or other identifying factor. The type of analysis being engaged in under EU law is rather more like what would take place in a passing off action or action for misleading or deceptive conduct.
Thirdly, our law does recognise the idea of “initial interest confusion”, but the number of people who apparently went to M & S’ website and “clicked away” does rather highlight the difficulties with the concept as applied to web searches: clicking the back button, or even doing another web search in the browser, is not so costly as walking out of the shop, hopping back in your car and going looking for the intended destination.
Arguably, the most significant point could be the starting point identified at  – the Court of Justice’s recognition that:
keyword advertising is not inherently or inevitably objectionable from a trade mark perspective. On the contrary, the case law of the CJEU in this field recognises that, as a general rule, keyword advertising promotes competition ….
On this view, it was only the very special nature of INTERFLORA as a ‘network’ that convicted Marks & Spencer.
For example Southern Cross v Toowoomba at  but, at least in the context of misleading or deceptive conduct / passing off (yes, I know this is a post about registered trade marks) some brake may be imposed on that in at least some cases. ?
The ACCC has successfully appealed the Google Adwords case for misleading and deceptive conduct.
So, for example, Alpha Dog Trainging has been operating a dogtraining business for 12 years. Dog Training Australia (Ausdog) bought ads on the keywords Alpha Dog Training through Google’s Adwords program. One ad generated was:
Alpha Dog Training
DogTrainingAustralia.com.au All Breeds. We come to you. No dog that can’t be trained.
Instead of being taken through through to Alpha Dog Training’s website, however, a user who clicked on the ad was taken through to Ausdog’s website.
A clear case of misleading or deceptive conduct by Ausdog.
Because of its role in “selecting” which ads got placed in what order, Google has also been found liable.
Prof. King, formerly an ACCC commissioner, highlights why and thinks the Court got it seriously wrong.
Google’s placement of advertisements, generated through its AdWords program, on search results pages is not misleading or deceptive conduct contrary to s 52 TPA / s 18 ACL (I’m afraid you have to scroll down). However, the advertiser’s use of another trader’s name in the headline for an advertisement which had nothing to do with that trade was.
So for example, the Trading Post used the AdWords program to generate an ad:
www.tradingpost.com.au New/Used Fords – Search 90,000 + auto ads online. Great finds daily!
The advertisements at the URL did not have anything to do with Kloster Ford or vehicles Kloster Ford was offering for sale.
The Trading Post therefore had engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct; Google did not.
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v Trading Post Australia Pty Ltd  FCA 1086
The European Court of Justice has ruled that the sale of ‘trademarked’ terms by Google as keyword triggers of advertising:
From IPKat reports. According to the IPKat, the rulings themselves:
1. Article 5(1)(a) of First Council Directive 89/104/EEC of 21 December 1988 to approximate the laws of the Member States relating to trade marks and Article 9(1)(a) of Council Regulation (EC) No 40/94 of 20 December 1993 on the Community trade mark must be interpreted as meaning that the proprietor of a trade mark is entitled to prohibit an advertiser from advertising, on the basis of a keyword identical with that trade mark which that advertiser has, without the consent of the proprietor, selected in connection with an internet referencing service, goods or services identical with those for which that mark is registered, in the case where that advertisement does not enable an average internet user, or enables that user only with difficulty, to ascertain whether the goods or services referred to therein originate from the proprietor of the trade mark or an undertaking economically connected to it or, on the contrary, originate from a third party.
2. An internet referencing service provider which stores, as a keyword, a sign identical with a trade mark and organises the display of advertisements on the basis of that keyword does not use that sign within the meaning of Article 5(1) and (2) of Directive 89/104 or of Article 9(1) of Regulation No 40/94.
3. Article 14 of Directive 2000/31/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 8 June 2000 on certain legal aspects of information society services, in particular electronic commerce, in the Internal Market (‘Directive on electronic commerce’) must be interpreted as meaning that the rule laid down therein applies to an internet referencing service provider in the case where that service provider has not played an active role of such a kind as to give it knowledge of, or control over, the data stored. If it has not played such a role, that service provider cannot be held liable for the data which it has stored at the request of an advertiser, unless, having obtained knowledge of the unlawful nature of those data or of that advertiser’s activities, it failed to act expeditiously to remove or to disable access to the data concerned.
IPKat threatens more detailed consideration in a later post.
Prof. Goldman provides a thoughtful analysis from a US perspective here.
Well, strictly speaking, the 2nd Circuit in the USA has held that Google’s sale of keywords may be use in commerce.
Rescuecom had sued Google for trademark infringement by selling advertisements (sponsored links) triggered by Rescuecom’s trademark. The District Court had dismissed the claim on the grounds that Google’s conduct was not use in commerce. So now it goes back to the District Court.
Of course, Google’s conduct, if were done in Australia or transacted with a business located in Australia, would be in trade or commerce for the purposes of the Trade Practices Act. In context, however, the nearest analogue under our law is whether or not the conduct might be “use as a trade mark” (in the sense of using the sign in the course of trade) for the purposes of s 120 of the Trade Marks Act.
Professor Goldman considers the ramifications under US law (and the distinguishing of WhenU) here.