Judge Throws Out Trademark Infringement Action Against Amazon’s Merchandising Practices

On February 20, 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Dean D. Pregerson (Central District of California) granted Amazon’s motion for summary judgment, ending Multi Time Machine (MTM)’s trademark infringement action against the world’s largest online retailer.

Multi Time Machine, Inc., v. Amazon.com, and Amazon Services LLC, is a trademark infringement action brought by MTM against Amazon for merchandising products of MTM’s competitors through the use of MTM’s trademarks. MTM sells expensive military style watches, but prevents resale on Amazon through tight distribution control. When Amazon customers search for MTM watches, however, the search results suggest alternatives, mainly from MTM’s competitors, Luminox and Chase-Durer. MTM argued that in order to avoid confusion, Amazon must first inform its customers that it doesn’t carry any products with the MTM brand before offering competing products. In moving for summary judgment, Amazon contended that no reasonable trier of fact could find that there is a likelihood of confusion resulting from its use of MTM’s marks.

In granting Amazon’s motion for summary judgment, the court found that the merchandising of Amazon’s search results isn’t likely to confuse customers about the source of the watches. This is largely because Amazon’s products listings page clearly labels the source of each of the results. Moreover, customers can’t purchase products until navigating to the product detail page which further identifies the source of the watch. MTM was unable to provide any evidence of actual confusion.

While this case deals only with Amazon’s internal search engine, the opinion could have implications for general-purpose search engines such as Google and Bing. In fact, the court mentioned those search engines in its opinion, comparing the search technologies of Amazon’s internal search engine to those of Google and Bing that rely on consumer behavior to retrieve results excluding the search term itself. If consumers clearly understand the relationship between their search and the search results and can easily identify the source, these search results pages should not result in any actionable trademark infringement.