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Seventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Trademark Claim Against Yahoo!

Case and Court

Stayart v. Yahoo! Inc., No. 09-3379 (7th Cir. Sep. 30, 2010).

Beverly Stayart pleads that she is “the only Beverly Stayart on the Internet.”  (Surprisingly, she appears to be right, at least for the moment.)  She commented, under her real name, on a blog.  Her blog comment, along with her name, was copied and posted on a Chinese splog promoting online pharmacies selling erectile dysfunction drugs and various sex-related websites.

So, when Stayart searched Yahoo for her name, one of the search results was the Chinese splog.  And she clicked on the link, and was sent to some unsavory corner of the internet (which, due to cloaking, did not contain the text of her blog comment at all).  However, the unsavory site did discern that she had come there from a search results page for the query “Bev Stayart,” and plastered those words on top of its unsavory content.

Understandably, seeing her name plastered atop porn and fake come-hither personal ads caused Stayart to freak out a bit.  Less understandably, it led her to file a complaint against Yahoo! for violation of the Lanham Act.  Stayart alleged that her name had commercial value and that Yahoo!, by refusing her requests to alter its search results to remove the link to the splog, had falsely implied that she endorsed certain erectile dysfunction drugs.

Yahoo! moved for judgment on the pleadings on several grounds, including that Stayart lacked standing under the Lanham Act because Stayart did not have a commercial interest in her name.  The District Court granted Yahoo’s motion, holding that the allegations in the complaint did not show that Stayart had the necessary “reasonable interest to protect” in a commercial activity.  Alleging in her complaint that “two poems written by Bev Stayart appear on two Danish websites supporting the preservation of the baby seal population in eastern Canada” was, alas, not enough.

The Seventh Circuit (Manion, J.) affirmed, holding that:

While
Stayart’s goals may be passionate and well-intentioned,
they are not commercial. And the good name that a person
garners in such altruistic feats is not what § 43 of
the Lanham Act protects: it “is a private remedy for a
commercial plaintiff who meets the burden of proving
that its commercial interests have been harmed by a
competitor.” Made in the USA Found., 365 F. 3d at 281
(quotation and brackets omitted).

While Stayart’s goals may be passionate and well-intentioned, they are not commercial. And the good name that a person garners in such altruistic feats is not what § 43 of the Lanham Act protects: it “is a private remedy for a commercial plaintiff who meets the burden of proving that its commercial interests have been harmed by a competitor.” Made in the USA Found., 365 F. 3d at 281 (quotation and brackets omitted).

Perhaps this dismissal is for the best.  Had the case progressed to discovery, Stayart may ultimately have lived to regret some of the allegations in her complaint. So, for all of those of you out there contemplating how to plead your trademark claim in federal court, you may want to leave out the allegation that “Plaintiff in no way has ever engaged in a promiscuous lifestyle, or other overt sexual activities[.]”   That sort of thing can make for a needlessly interesting deposition.

See also

Categories: Trademark.

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