Initial Interest Confusion

Eric Goldman

Marquette University Law School



w   “The use of another’s trademark in a manner reasonably calculated to capture initial consumer attention, even though no actual sale is finally completed as a result of the confusion” (Brookfield)

w   Initially, IIC was part of multi-factor likelihood of confusion analysis, evaluated under:

n    Purchaser care/sophistication

n    Actual confusion

n    Competitive proximity


Brookfield v. West Coast

w   Video rental store launches website at and uses “moviebuff” in metatags

w   High-end entertainment publisher has senior TM rights in “moviebuff”

w   Parties have some competitive proximity

n    Court says some searchers might settle for defendant’s database instead of continuing to search for plaintiff’s

w   Using standard multi-factor test, court holds domain name infringes

w   A word about search engine operations

n    Robots index every word on web pages

n    Consumers do keyword searches

n    Search engines display sites containing keyword

n    Relevancy algorithms historically gave credit for metatags placement, but is this still true?

w   Court says standard multi-factor test doesn’t apply to metatag analysis

w   Metatags create initial interest confusion

w   The billboard analogy


Some 7th Circuit IIC Cases

w   Dorr-Oliver, 94 F.3d 376 (1996)

n    Trade dress case between corn wet milling manufacturers

n    IIC requires competitive passing-off: “luring potential customers away from a product by initially passing off its goods as those of the producer’s”—not found here

w   Rust Environment, 131 F.3d 1210 (1997)

n    Former employees launch environmental consulting firm under abandoned name

n    IIC evaluated under purchaser care factor—not found

w   Syndicate Sales, 192 F.3d 633 (1999)

n    Trade dress case involving plastic baskets for funeral bouquets

n    IIC doesn’t overcome a finding of no consumer confusion

w   Eli Lilly, 233 F. 3d 456 (2000)

n    Natural Prozac alternative marketed using “Herbrozac” and “Prozac” in metatags

n    District court analyzes IIC under actual confusion factor and finds likelihood of confusion

n    7th circuit reverses IIC analysis but upholds based on bad faith demonstrated by metatag usage

w   Promatek, 2002 U.S. App. LEXIS 16207 (Aug. 13, 2002)

n    Defendant includes competitor’s name in metatags

n    Court evaluates IIC under purchaser care factor and finds likelihood of confusion

n    Remedy: defendant’s home page must include disclaimer containing plaintiff’s TMs

n    Who won this case?


Plaintiff-Favorable Arguments

w   IIC is a bypass to multi-factor test (Brookfield)

w   IIC when defendant tries to influence search listing placement through metatags or otherwise (Eli Lilly, Promatek, JK Harris)

w   IIC when consumers experience momentary confusion (NYSSCPA, OBH)

w   IIC when defendant obtain marketplace attention through association (Mobil Oil, Elvis Presley)


Defenses to IIC

w   No passing off/bait ‘n’ switch (Dorr-Oliver, Northland Insurance)

w   Word not being used as source identifier (Netscape)

w   Nominative fair use (Wells)

n    Product not readily identifiable without the mark

n    Mark used only as reasonably necessary to identify the product

n    No suggestion of sponsorship or endorsement

w   Disclaimers (Bihari)

w   Not competitors (Dorr-Oliver, Netscape, TNN, Checkpoint)

w   Insufficient confusion (TeleTech, Chatam, Strick)


Academic Criticism

w   Doctrine lacks definition and structure

w   Efforts to attract attention are everywhere

n    By definition, marketing tries to “capture initial consumer attention”

n    Search engines index every word

n    Possibility v. likelihood of confusion

w   TM owners can curtail publication of criticism, parody and neutral information without any real confusion

w   Questionable assumptions about consumer/search behavior

n    Consumers expect perfect relevancy in searches

n    Consumers searching on TM expect to find only TM owner

n    Consumers seeing search listing will be confused about what’s at the destination

n    Consumers stop their searches mid-stream

n    Hitting the back button is a “harm”

n    Metatags make a difference in relevancy algorithms

n    Consumers accept irrelevant search results

w   An emerging TM right in gross?