Metatag Use of Trademarks Constitutes Use in Commerce, Court Rules

By Joseph Mandour on August 22, 2008

internet-metaSan Diego – Metatags are website programming elements that average Internet users never see. However, they influence the viewing habits of millions. A metatag is written into the header of a webpage’s code and gives directions to search engines about what content or keywords may be found on the webpage (although the tag itself never appears on the page.) Unscrupulous web programmers and advertisers often try to “stack the deck” by adding as many keywords as possible in the metatag programming, hoping to end up in first or second place on a search results page.

This practice is even riskier after a Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals judge ruled in the plaintiff’s favor in North American Medical v. Axiom Worldwide, Inc. Attorneys for North American argued that by placing North American’s trademarks in the metatags of Axiom’s webpages, Axiom was committing trademark infringement. The Eleventh Circuit agreed concluding that placing trademarks in the metatags section of the webpage did constitute a use in commerce. The Court also ruled that by using its competitor’s trademarks in the metatags, Axiom had created a likelihood of confusion. The lessons of the case are clear: companies and individuals should be very careful how they create ad copy in all parts of their website, metatag or not.

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