Web Site Designers Under Attack by IP Attorneys

By Robin D. Gross
December 1997

Be wary, Web page designers, several recent court rulings have found Internet Web page designers liable for trademark infringement for including trademarked words in the meta-tags of the Web sites they design.

Meta-tags, which are invisible to the viewers of a Web page are embedded in the hypertext markup language (HTML) of a Web page and used by search engines such as Yahoo or Excite to retrieve documents on the Internet.  For example, if you wanted to search for a site on the Internet which uses Dolby mastering or compression processes, you might use the word "Dolby" as your search term.  The search engine then searches through the meta-tags of Web sites looking for matches.  Several recent court rulings have indicated the use of trademarks in Meta-tags constitutes trademark infringement.

In Playboy Enterprises Inc. v. Calvin Designer Labels, Civil Action No. 97-320, a federal district court in San Francisco issued a temporary restraining order against the publisher of a pornography Web site who embedded references to "Playboy" and "Playmate" in its hidden HTML code.  Additionally, the names of the Websites, playboyxxx.com and playmatelive.com, violated Playboy's trademark.  The court demanded that the Web page design company change the Web site names as well as remove the trademarked terms from the program's meta-tags.

In another meta-tag infringement suit, Insituform Technologies, Inc. v. National Envirotech Group, Civil Action No. 97-2064, Insituform alleged trademark infringement for including its trademarks in hidden references on the defendant's Web site to lead users of a search engine to its site.  Although this case never went to trial, the parties entered a settlement agreement whereby National Envirotech Group consented to a permanent injunction entered by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.  The injunction directed them to remove all of Insituform's trademarks and servicemarks from the Web site's meta-tag keyword section of the HTML code.  Several similar cases are pending with Web page designers and intellectual property attorneys watching closely.