Metatags may be more trouble than they're worth

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Promatek Industries Ltd v Equitrac Corporation deals with the controversial issue of whether businesses are permitted to use competitors' trademarks in their metatags in order to draw customers to their own websites and, arguably, lure customers away from their competitors.

Equitrac mistakenly used the trademark COPITRACK as a metatag for its website (both parties agreed that Equitrac had intended to use COPITRAK, to which it had a legitimate right). Promatek brought suit upon learning of the tag, prompting Equitrac to remove the term from its site and advise search engines to remove any link between the term and its site.

Promatek was not satisfied with Equitrac's action and gained a preliminary injunction banning Equitrac from using the term anywhere on its site and requiring that it apologize for its misuse of the trademark, using the following language:

"If you were directed to this site through the term 'Copitrack', that is an error as there is no affiliation between Equitrac and that term. The mark COPITRAK is a registered trademark of Promatek Industries Ltd, which can be found at www.promatek.com or www.copitrak.com."

Equitrac appealed the injunction, arguing that the apology would divert business away from it to Promatek.

The appellate court upheld the measures, stating that "Promatek would suffer a greater harm than Equitrac if corrective measures are not taken." The case may cause companies to rethink the use of such metatags, as they may find that the remedial measures that they are forced to take outweigh any perceived benefits.

Chris Gibson, Steptoe & Johnson, London

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