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Amazon's Competitor Brand Displays Don't Violate Trademarks

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on October 23, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The 9th Circuit granted Amazon's motion for summary judgment in a suit brought by Multi-Time Machine, Inc. (aka "MTM"). And unless this issues makes its way to SCOTUS, it looks like time-out for the watch manufacturer.

The case was an interesting "just kidding" step taken by the Appellate Court, which surprised all parties who fully expected the case to be moved beyond Amazon's summary judgment.

Wait, I've Seen That Before

MTM brand watches were and remain the beloved darling brand of choice by the survivalist and mall-ninja crowd besotted by the brand's carefully tailored "tacticool," hard-use image. The appearances of the brand's timepieces are well known amongst watch aficionados and it has been further polarized after appearing on Kiefer Sutherland's wrist in the Fox Primetime series "24".

The 9th Circuit Reverses Itself

The decision by the 9th Circuit is unusual because the court effectively backtracked on an earlier decision it made when it ruled that Amazon was to face a trademark lawsuit due to the "confusion" of search result suggestions. Competitors watches, with brands including Luminox, Inc,. with similar styling and target audience would be suggested by Amazon's algorithm and would form the basis of the case.

But the three judge panel surprised everyone when it opined that Amazon's search results and suggestions would not confuse a "reasonably prudent shopper." The court clarified that clear labeling and marking precluded a colorable argument by MTM.

Judge Carlos Bea dissented with the majority and held that Amazon should still be forced to go through trial. In his opinion, Amazon could have been clearer if a search for MTM products returned the statement "returned no results" or "did not return an exact match" -- a practice utilized by other online retailers.

Trademark Wars

The last several years had seen fierce litigation by companies bringing suits against competitors and the search engines seeking to undermine their online presence by buying keywords that would naturally be associated with that rival company. For example, Reebok bought search ad terms for the word "swoosh" in an effort to undermine Nike. Although this case is not entirely on point, it has been decided in the wake of numerous groundbreaking cases in IP law that generally sets an uneasy tone over the entire industry.

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