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Trademark - Keyword Battle Yet Again

INTERFLORA, the US-based and the world's largest flower delivery organization sued MARKS AND SPENCER for sponsoring the word 'Interflora' as a search engine keyword. The issue has been reviewed by the European Court of Justice at different levels and aspects in another case known as like Google France. What makes this case is different is that this time the trademark owners sued not search engine operator but its competitor seeking compensation for damages and an injunction to prevent MARKS AND SPENCER using its registered trademark.

The Court of Justice of the European Union in its Judgment on September 22, 2011 referred mostly Google France case and the opinion of the Advocate General has clarified use of a sign by an advertiser as a keyword to trigger a sponsored link is use in the course of trade in relation to the advertiser's goods or services even where the sign selected as a keyword does not appear in the advertisement. The Court further stressed that this use may be prevented by the trade mark owner if it breaches any of the one of the main functions of a trade mark.

The operative part of the judgment is as follows:

Article 5(1)(a) of First Council Directive 89/104/EEC of 21 December 1988 to approximate the laws of the Member States relating to trademarks and Article 9(1)(a) of Council Regulation (EC) No 40/94 of 20 December 1993 on the Community trade mark must be interpreted as meaning that the proprietor of a trade mark is entitled to prevent a competitor from advertising - on the basis of a keyword which is identical with the trade mark and which has been selected in an internet referencing service by the competitor without the proprietor's consent - goods or services identical with those for which that mark is registered, where that use is liable to have an adverse effect on one of the functions of the trade mark. Such use:

- adversely affects the trade mark's function of indicating origin where the advertising displayed on the basis of that keyword does not enable reasonably well-informed and reasonably observant internet users, or enables them only with difficulty, to ascertain whether the goods or services concerned by the advertisement originate from the proprietor of the trade mark or an undertaking economically linked to that proprietor or, on the contrary, originate from a third party;

- does not adversely affect, in the context of an internet referencing service having the characteristics of the service at issue in the main proceedings, the trade mark's advertising function; and

- adversely affects the trade mark's investment function if it substantially interferes with the proprietor's use of its trade mark to acquire or preserve a reputation capable of attracting consumers and retaining their loyalty.

Article 5(2) of Directive 89/104 and Article 9(1)(c) of Regulation No 40/94 must be interpreted as meaning that the proprietor of a trade mark with a reputation is entitled to prevent a competitor from advertising on the basis of a keyword corresponding to that trade mark, which the competitor has, without the proprietor's consent, selected in an internet referencing service, where the competitor thereby takes unfair advantage of the distinctive character or repute of the trade mark (free-riding) or where the advertising is detrimental to that distinctive character (dilution) or to that repute (tarnishment).

Advertising on the basis of such a keyword is detrimental to the distinctive character of a trade mark with a reputation (dilution) if, for example, it contributes to turning that trade mark into a generic term.

By contrast, the proprietor of a trade mark with a reputation is not entitled to prevent, inter alia, advertisements displayed by competitors on the basis of keywords corresponding to that trade mark, which put forward

- without offering a mere imitation of the goods or services of the proprietor of that trade mark, without causing dilution or tarnishment and without, moreover, adversely affecting the functions of the trade mark with a reputation - an alternative to the goods or services of the proprietor of that mark.

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