Brand Spillovers Article Now Available

By Eric Goldman

I have finally posted my article, Brand Spillovers, to SSRN. It will be published in the Harvard Journal of Law & Technology later this year. I have blogged about this project several times over the past 4 years, but for most of you, this is your first public opportunity to read the article in full. Please take a look!

This article has been in the works nearly 5 years, so a few words about this project. It started with my Deregulating Relevancy article. While writing that in 2004, I had a few paragraphs regarding the analogies between retailer shelf adjacency and keyword triggering–a popular meme then, and one that still gets used a lot. I ultimately removed most of that discussion from the draft and set it aside to explore in a separate paper. I initially conceptualized the paper about the role of physical and temporal adjacencies in trademark law, and I presented on that topic at Law & Society Association in May 2005. (See my slides from 2005).

After several drafts, many presentations and lots of very helpful comments, the paper has evolved substantially. The paper now explores the analogy between shelf adjacencies and keyword triggering in careful detail, explaining why the analogy is legally and factually complicated but also useful. My hope is that the paper will become the key reference any time anyone in the future wants to make that analogy.

Also, the paper is one of the few articles that analyzes the unique role of retailers in trademark infringement lawsuits. My research suggests that retailers are universally ignored by trademark lawyers, judges and regulators, even though retailers do a lot of things with third party trademarks that look actionable. I’ve thought a lot about this over the past 5 years, and I keep coming back to the unavoidable conclusion that trademark plaintiffs seem to be erring by not suing more retailers even in manufacturer-vs-manufacturer lawsuits. The paper tries to explain why retailers get a free pass nonetheless, but if you have alternative explanations after reading my attempts, I would be extremely grateful.

Finally, this paper is noteworthy because it is the last stop in a multi-year project on how trademark law can damage the Internet. Other papers in the series include Deregulating Relevancy, Online Word of Mouth (which also was a branch-off of the Deregulating Relevancy article) and, to a lesser extent, a Coasean Analysis of Marketing. I’m still interested in Internet trademark law, but next few projects are going to focus on other topics. The next article in queue is a short essay detailing why Wikipedia will fail. After that, I will be focusing on my Economics of Reputational Information project, which I expect to be working on over the next couple of years, and a big stealth project.

In any case, the Brand Spillovers paper remains a draft, and I have limited opportunities to make changes. Accordingly, I gratefully welcome any comments you have.

The abstract:

This Article considers the spillover effects of trademarks—in particular, “brand spillovers,” which occur when consumer interest in a trademark increases the profits of third parties who do not own the trademark. Using techniques such as loss leaders and shelf space adjacency, retailers routinely create brand spillovers for their profit, and trademark law generally has not restricted these activities. Online intermediaries, such as search engines, also create and profit from brand spillovers by selling manufacturers’ trademarks for advertising purposes (“keyword triggering”). However, in contrast to retailer practices, keyword triggering has sparked a heated and irresolute battle over its legitimacy under trademark law. By drawing lessons from retailers’ experiences with brand spillovers and through an analysis of the ways intermediaries can add value to consumers, this Article offers a new way to resolve the keyword triggering debate. The Article proposes that all intermediaries—including both retailers and online intermediaries—should be permitted to use brand spillovers as part of their effort to reduce consumer search costs, even if the intermediaries profit from the brand spillovers along the way.