Trademark Owner Gets Injunction Against Keyword Ad Campaign That Generated No Sales for the Advertiser

By Eric Goldman v. Six C Consulting, Inc., 2011 WL 1113445 (N.D. Ga. March 24, 2011)

[I know the headline sounds like an April Fools joke, but no April Fools here…although, as I will show, this case definitely involved some foolishness.]

I hate sounding like a broken record, but I’ll say it again. Most keyword ad lawsuits are not economically justified, so trademark owners are almost invariably making a bad business decision bringing them. Check out this beautiful case study of that principle.

The plaintiff has a trademark in “Dura Pro” for practice golf mats. Six C is a competitor who outsourced its PPC campaign to Channel Advisor. Channel Advisor placed competitive keyword ads triggered by “Dura Pro.” In January 2009, the trademark owner complained to Six C, who promptly told Channel Advisor to drop the keyword. Channel Advisor didn’t follow this instruction completely, meaning that some ads continued despite Six C’s instructions. The plaintiff sued March 2009, and the court indicates that Channel Advisor fully dropped the term by April 2009 (although elsewhere it says the rogue ads persisted for 14 months).

For reasons not explained in this opinion, Six C admitted that its keyword ad buys constituted trademark infringement, narrowing the issues in this case to remedies for the admitted infringement.

The court rejects the plaintiff’s claims for lost sales. The plaintiff submitted a spreadsheet showing a decrease in sales, but the court says the spreadsheet showed monthly fluctuations in sales, and the plaintiff only showed correlation, not causation, with the post-advertising decrease.

The plaintiff also sought the defendant’s profits from the keyword advertising, and this is where the lawsuit gets farcical. It turns out that the defendant only got 1,319 impressions on its Dura Pro ads, 35 clicks from those impressions (2.6% clickthrough rate) and NO SALES from those clicks. Are you kidding me? The plaintiff sued over a keyword ad campaign that generated ZERO SALES for the defendant? It seems like the plaintiff should have been thrilled that its competitor was wasting money on an ineffective campaign. Instead, foolishly, the trademark owner spent its own money to pay its lawyers to get the defendant to stop wasting its advertising dollars. Great business decision, guys.

The court also denies attorneys’ fees, citing Six C’s responsiveness to the trademark owner’s initial C&D (even if Channel Advisor didn’t properly execute Six C’s instructions). The court does award the trademark owner the court costs of the action, but these should be relatively small.

Finally, the court grants the trademark owner’s request for an injunction (with the exact restrictions to be hashed out), but big whoop. Six C dropped the keyword a long time ago, and given the keyword’s conversion rate, that wasn’t really a sacrifice. The court says that the trademark owner was suffering irreparable injury “regardless of the fact that defendant’s unauthorized use appears to have been unintentional, and that it did not result in any readily quantifiable harm to plaintiff.” I think the judge could have more aggressively scrutinized the trademark owner’s arguments on this point, but an injunction is a logical outcome for an admitted trademark infringement, even if it’s mostly inconsequential in this case.

Notice that the defendant gets a decent outcome here in large part because it chose to quickly drop the keyword at the trademark owner’s request. Not all advertisers would be so risk-adverse. Then again, I would expect most advertisers to fight the trademark infringement claim rather than admitting to it.

I’m adding this outcome to the list of irrational keyword ad lawsuits. Other precedents in that genre:

King v. ZymoGenetics. The defendant advertiser got 84 clicks.

Storus v. Aroa. The defendant advertiser got 1,374 clicks over 11 months.

800-JR Cigar v. The search engine defendant generated $345 in revenue from the litigated terms.

Sellify v. Amazon. The defendant got 1,000 impressions and 61 clicks.

1-800 Contacts v. 1-800 Contacts spent no less than $650k (and was willing to spend $1.1M) to pursue, which made $20 of profit from competitive keyword ads. It also tried to hold responsible for affiliate ad buys which generated about 1,800 clicks, which under the most favorable computations were worth about $40k.

– and now v. Six C. The defendant got 1,319 impressions, 35 clicks and zero sales.