Fri, Feb. 27, 2004

Court on Meta Tags and Trademarks

SWM - Washington.   The Düsseldorf appellate court decided on February 17, 2004, file number I 20 U 104/03, that the use of meta tags in file headers of a website does not violate the trademarks or other rights of a competitor. Meta tags are words used within the code of websites which can not be seen by normal internet users. They perform numerous purposes and can include keywords for the content of a site which search engines, like Google, may use, or for filtering software, used by schools, libraries or parents to protect children under COPPA. The defendant's website contained meta tags consisting of business names and trademarks of the plaintiff, a competitor. As a result, internet users who searched for this trademarks or names through a search engine found both, the webpage of the of the trademarks owner and the competitor's.

The court determined that the use of a word as a meta tag does not connect the word with a product or service because meta tags are invisible to the average consumer. In addition, average internet search engine users do not expect results for only one company, the court noted. There can be no resulting likelihood of confusion with the trademarks if meta tags cause search results favorable to the defendant.

The court also rejected plaintiff's claims based on the Unfair Competition Statute. Only manipulations to move his own website ahead of that belonging to his competitor in the search engines may have constituted an act of unfair competition, the court stated.

In the end, this well-reasoned decision affects only the legal fees and court costs because the defendant had voluntarily abstained from the further use of the meta tags while the case pended in the lower court. But its holdings on the substantive issues stand in stark contrast to many older decisions that bar trademarks from the meta tags of competitors. It may trigger a change in the German case law on meta tags. See also Wagner, Internet-Meta-Tags und Markenrecht in den USA and Kochinke and Tröndle, Links, Frames und Meta-Tags, CR 1999, p. 195 ff.

      CURRENT :: 2003 :: 2004 :: 2005 :: 2006 :: 2007 :: 2008 :: 2009 :: 2010 :: 2011 :: 2012 :: 2013 :: 2014 :: 2015 :: 2016 :: 2017 :: 2018 :: 2019