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Michigan company loses Internet trademark case, told to grin and bear it

Public Citizen racked up another victory for Internet free speech last week when a federal judge in Michigan dismissed a trademark claim filed by a Michigan company against the consumer Web site InformercialScams.com. Lifestyle Lift, which markets cosmetic surgery through infomercials, was trying to make the somewhat ludicrous assertion that InfomercialScams couldn’t use its name as part of the URL that directed folks to reviews about the Lifestyle Lift procedures. For example, if you go to http://www.infomercialscams.com/scams/lifestyle_lift_complaints, you can read the reviews. A lot of customers had complained that the procedure doesn’t provide lasting results or left them scarred.

Public Citizen attorney Paul Alan Levy, who argued the case, said the judge’s decision should send a message to companies that file these frivolous trademark claims that the the First Amendment isn’t so easily quelled. The win in the Lifestyle case follows our win against Wal-Mart back in March over another trademark issue. That’s the case where Wal-Mart sued a parodist, saying, among other things, that the company owned the trademark to the ubiquitous yellow smiley face.

Joe Mullin at the Prior Art mentions the Wal-Mart case in a post today that talks about the difference between trademark law in the U.S. and in the European Union.

Last month, I talked to Keker & Van Nest lawyer Michael Page, who is representing Google against Rescuecom in New York, and we talked about the differences between American & European trademark laws.

“European trademark laws are very different beasts,” says Page. “They really think of it as owning the words, and you can’t use them. American laws are about protecting consumers.” Some of the European trademark decisions have been “very harsh,” he notes. “Germany and France are very both anti-speech; it’s a sort of thought control. eBay has lost a series of decisions… They can’t allow anyone to list for sale World War II or Nazi memorabilia anywhere. It’s a fairly hostile environment for commerce and speech.”