9th Circuit reverses earlier decision and rules that Amazon’s display of competitor brands doesn’t violate trademark.

A San Francisco based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has taken the unusual step of reversing an earlier decision to rule that Amazon.com does not infringe trademark rights when in response to a query for a brand that it does not sell, it displays competing brands of wristwatches.

The plaintiff, watchmaker- Multi Time Machine had complained that Amazon’s search results were likely to produce consumer confusion. The case focused on what happens when an Amazon customer searches for the phrase “MTM special ops”, this is a military style watch that Multi Time Machine sells. Amazon does not carry Multi Time Machines watches, and in response to the search displays to the users a page of military style watches that are made by competing brands such as Luminox.

Judge Barry Silverman who made the superseding decision and spoke on behalf of the majority wrote in his statement: “there is no likelihood of confusion by displaying competing brands. He commented “Amazon is responding to a customer’s inquiry about a brand it does not carry by doing no more than stating clearly (and showing pictures of) what brands it does carry”. He continued “Not only are the other brands clearly labelled and accompanied by photographs, there is no evidence of actual confusion by anyone.” He further wrote “Amazon’s search results page is unambiguous- not unlike when someone walks into a diner, asks for a Coke, and is told ‘No Coke. Pepsi.”

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