June 8, 2011

Can one law firm prevent a rival law firm from purchasing its name as an internet search term?

Cannon & Dunphy paid for "Habush" and "Rottier" so that its ad would appear above Habush Habush & Rottier when people go looking for the well-known and widely advertised Wisconsin personal injury firm. Claiming a violation of Wisconsin privacy law, Habush sued and — we learn today — lost.

The court rejected Cannon's argument that it had a First Amendment right to use the other firm's names like this, on the ground that the process of using the name in the computer searching process isn't speech. Habush lost, however, because the use of its name was not unreasonable.
[Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Charles F. Kahn Jr.] characterized internet key word search terms as the modern equivalent of proximity advertising that business competitors have done for years:
"In ancient times, people used paper telephone directories. A user could find a particular attorney by viewing the alphabetical listings while carefully avoiding the block ads preceding and to either side of the name being searched. The plaintiffs themselves sought the attention of everyone seeking anything in the directory by placing a full page ad on the back cover of the telephone book."
The comments at the link are mainly people saying: Who cares who wins this lawsuit? They're all lawyers!

29 comments:

Dose of Sanity said...

I'm surprised they didn't go for some sort of trademark violation here. (Yes, its a name, I know) There are several IP cases relating to internet search keywords and meta-tags. Ad placement must be under a different standard.

For me, I would have made the 'initial confusion' argument.

Triangle Man said...

I wonder, what if the ad-words linked to a website that said "Habush and Rottier sucks", or to a domain www.habushandrottiersucks.com?

Trooper York said...

Who has the rights to the logo of the bald headed guy with the briefcase chasing the ambulance?

Dose of Sanity said...

@York

Going with Right to Privacy there for your own likeness being used?

@Triangle

That's definitely fine. Free speech and wot.

BT said...

Ya, who cares who won, they're just Cock@@@ lawyers.

Trooper York said...

Hey Dose haven't seen you around lately. What's up the tent city doesn't have free wi-fi?

Trooper York said...

My image is readily available on my blog but I don't want to inflict it on innocent strangers who might read this comment section.

Dose of Sanity said...

@ York

Glad to be back. I had my finals and then I moved to Madison. I had been commuting from Milwaukee.

I still can't reveal who I am though, grades not yet posted. Probably because our final was on the last possible day in the finals period.

Haven't been to tent city yet - stupid job. :)

Robert said...

Q: You find yourself locked in a room with Hitler, Stalin, and a lawyer. In your hand is a pistol with two bullets. What do you do?

A: Shoot the lawyer. Twice.

Dose of Sanity said...

Ya, I've read your blog before York. Just messin. No one would ever use you in an advertsement.

I work at another big competing firm to these two firms. I wish I had heard the arguments in this trial - they were probably pretty vicious.

Peter said...

"The comments at the link are mainly people saying: Who cares who wins this lawsuit? They're all lawyers!"

Much of the public perceives the state of tort law under which personal injury lawyers thrive as insanely inefficient (much of the money never reaches successful plaintiffs) and not particularly fiar in that many deserving plaintiffs recieve nothing while underserving plaintiffs (and their counsel) may receive a great deal indeed.

It's hardly surprising that dissatisfaction with the tort system might spill over onto those who profit from it.

ndspinelli said...

We should care deeply who wins this lawsuit. For all we know, the next great presidential candidate like John Edwards could ooze out from the winner.

David said...

The embarrassing part is that Habush lost the lawsuit.

Bob Habush took my deposition once back in the day. He did a very good job.

Martin L. Shoemaker said...

I started reading this post firmly on the side of Habush Habush & Rottier. But the judge's analogy persuaded me. To be perfectly honest, I never see the paid search ads on Bing or Google. I've trained my eyes just to skip them. And the judge is essentially finding that that's normal, and so there's no real impact from the Canon & Dunphy ads.

Oh, and while I'm less of a lawyer hater than average, maybe, I do have a special hatred for personal injury bottom feeders. So I'm perfectly objective here: I hate them all equally.

bagoh20 said...

Ooooh, John Edwards - he's dreamy.

But, he's no Clinton Weiner.

Curious George said...

A: Shoot the lawyer. Twice.

Or beat the lawyer to death with the pistol, and then shoot the corpse twice. There's nothing like the satisfaction of working with your hands.

Anga2010 said...

"In ancient times,"
heh... I'm way older than I thought I was, ancient, even.

Comrade X said...

Who cares who wins this lawsuit? They're all lawyers!

Google cares. They want to sell those keywords and should be free to run their business as they see fit. Apparently Mr. Habush wants to free ride his organic listing while banning the competitor paid listings that pay the freight. Perhaps Google should just charge Mr. Habush to appear in their directory in the first place.

Crunchy Frog said...

Or tell Hitler and Stalin that the lawyer handled their wives' divorce cases, and enjoy the show.

wv: boles

edutcher said...

The Habushes need a good SEO guy.

Crunchy Frog said...

Or tell Hitler and Stalin that the lawyer handled their wives' divorce cases, and enjoy the show.

Another Der Fuhrer video?

E.M. Davis said...

You know, when I'm looking for an esteemed law firm to represent my interests in a legal matter, I go straight to Google.

Lauderdale Vet said...

How is that different than McDonald's putting up a coffee billboard near Starbucks' headquarters?

"Four bucks is dumb"

traditionalguy said...

Personal Injury work is far more honorable than the hoard of Government legal counsel sucking at the guaranteed public money tit. At least there is a real fight that needs to be won for the client. And yes, many hard working and innocent people are terribly injured and abandoned to die in poverty until a Tort lawyer makes the Financial Industry called Liability Insurers pay the law suit because they refused to pay the claim.

BEK477 said...

Lets settle this dispute by trial by ordeal.

Let the litigants undergo a physical endurance competition. Say three senior partners from each law firm.

Conduct a trial by marathon (IRON-Man)running, a trial by weight lifting and a pugilist-stick combat event. Winner take all. First to complete the event with the fast time, the largest amount lifted wins.

Ann can serve on the 5 judge panel.

All judgements are final. No appeals.

Medieval jurisprudence on the march. Tradition!

gina said...

"In ancient times...?!" Oh man, that had me laughing so hard.
I'm glad Anga2010 thought that was ridiculous, too. I'm only 33 and I can still remember the ancient times when we didn't have the internet and had to let our fingers do the walking. In fact, I'm pretty sure the phone company still gives me one of those ancient... oh, what do they call those old things again? Oh, yes.. phone books every year. LOL

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Armani said...

That's definitely fine. Free speech and wot. houston personal injury attorney

Armani said...

I do NOT for a minute assume that those tests are correct and I WILL inspect and
hold the government to a high standard. Listen, they do make mistakes all the time!
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joe said...

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