Initial Interest Confusion rears its ugly head once more in trademark infringement case

Initial Interest Confusion in Trademark Infringement Law

Two years ago, Multi Time Machine brought a lawsuit against Amazon for trademark infringement, alleging that web pages on Amazon.com for “MTM special ops watches” keyword searches could be too confusing to consumers, since the MTM watches are not sold on the site. Now, a similar complaint was brought by Bodum versus Williams-Sonoma for French press coffeemakers. These cases illustrate significant risks for e-commerce sites.

Multi Time Machine’s complaint was based on a few different search results pages at Amazon that involved keywords associated with Multi Time Machine’s trademarks. When one searched for “mtm special ops watches” (and similar keyword searches that could be related to their marks), Amazon displayed what are essentially related search results. As mentioned before, MTM watches are not sold on Amazon — but the site associated those keyword searches with other watches that might be considered similar.

Initial Interest Confusion

Multi Time Machine claimed that this caused “Initial Interest Confusion” (IIC), which is a controversial theory of trademark law. IIC is a legal premise with a hazy definition that allows a court to find infringement has occurred when there is an initial confusion on the part of a consumer about the provenance of a product before it is ultimately bought — even if that confusion no longer exists at the point of sale. Wikipedia provides the following hypothetical example:

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