Social Media Marketing Is Relevant to Trademark Confusion Analysis–Quia v. Mattel

By Eric Goldman

Quia Corp. v. Mattel, Inc., 2011 WL 2749576 (N.D.Cal. July 14, 2011)

Both parties offer educational games under the brand “IXL” (presumably a homophone for “I excel”). The parties dispute who came first.

Mattel sought a determination that Mattel’s product’s presence in search results was legally irrelevant. Judge Fogel tosses Mattel a bone, saying “The mere fact that an internet search engine intermingles links to two products is not evidence of consumer confusion.”

Quia responded that it wasn’t kvetching about search at all (at least, not after Mattel boxed it in). Instead, Quia says the fact both parties are engaged in social media marketing increases the likelihood of consumer confusion. Quia offers the following evidence:

Defendants have taken steps such as reserving “tags” to improve search results on Google and Bing; monitoring “Google Blogs Alert for: ixl,” sending email “blasts,” creating Facebook applications, developing You-tube “channels,” and fostering tie-ins with “mommy bloggers.”

What are they talking about? What does it mean to “reserve tags” to improve Google search results? And why does it matter that Mattel has a Google Blog alerts on its purported trademark? And surely it’s not a surprise that an educational game has mommy-blogger tie-ins?

Exploring the Network Automation case and its implications for a Sleekcraft analysis in the online context, Judge Fogel responds:

While purchasing search engine keywords or selling product on are now “ubiquitous marketing channels,” social media marketing, such as tie-ins with “mommy bloggers,” may be more akin to niche marketplaces such as the specialty retail outlets and trade magazines at issue in Sleekcraft. At this stage of the proceedings, the Court cannot conclude that Plaintiff’s theories with respect to Defendants’ marketing strategies are irrelevant to the issue of consumer confusion.

That’s clearly the correct reading of Network Automation. Even so, given the things it’s alleged so far, I’m not clear what information Quia can introduce regarding marketing channels that will matter to the analysis.