TEXT OF STORY
Bob Moon:And now that age old question: What’s in a name? Turns out interpretation is everything when it comes to trademarks. A Paris court has found that eBay harmed the image of the luxury brand Louis Vuitton. The online auction site has been ordered to pay about $300,000 in damages. And it’s supposed to stop targeting consumers on the Internet by brand name piggybacking. Even misspellings of the company’s name are verboten.
Marketplace’s Jeff Tyler has more.
Jeff Tyler: EBay has been paying search engines to post ads when Internet shoppers misspell the name “Louis Vuitton.” The misspellings are sometimes used by counterfeiters to identify knock-offs.
High-tech analyst Rob Enderle says France is especially sensitive about fake luxury goods.
Rob Enderle: The problems with regard to knock-offs have been incredibly costly to those industries. And as a result, the Paris court has stepped up and been very, very aggressive in terms of how those brands are protected.
The European court says that by advertising on a site where people may be shopping for knock-offs, eBay hurt the Louis Vuitton brand and encouraged counterfeiters. But the United States takes a narrower view of trademark protections.
Dan Klerman: The trademark is not like a patent, that nobody else can use it for any reason. In trademarks, what’s primarily prohibited is a use which confuses consumers.
Dan Klerman is a law professor at the University of Southern California. He says it’s common for companies to target a competitor’s market online. Say you search in Google for information about Merrill Lynch; you might see an ad for Fidelity. The practice is so common, Klerman says it’s unlikely to confuse consumers.
Klerman: Many consumers actually find it very useful because if they are searching for one product, they often want to know about competing products.
Analyst Enderle wonders if the European ruling could impact other companies.
Enderle: Typically, once you have a ruling like this against one provider, that same ruling can be easily translated into other folks that provide similar services.
He says companies like Amazon and Google could be vulnerable, as could any search engine that helps consumers buy counterfeit goods.
I’m Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.
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