Case Study

Expert opinion in an auto industry trademark cases

Stroz Friedberg is a specialized risk management firm built to help clients solve the complex challenges prevalent in today’s digital, connected, and regulated business world

Expert opinion in an auto industry trademark cases

Stroz Friedberg filed expert affidavits in two separate trademark cases filed in federal court, Ford Motor Company v. Mill Supply, Inc., Case No. 04 -71120 (E.D. Mich.) and Grand Vehicle Works Corp. v. Mill Supply, Inc., Case No. 04 C 1915 (N.D. Ill.). These cases alleged that a vehicle parts dealer had intentionally used, without authorization, trade names owned by Ford Motor Company and Grand Vehicle Works Corp. (GVW), a manufacturer of “Union City” delivery vehicles known as stepvans.

Stroz Friedberg’s examiners preserved and analyzed evidence of trademark use in several different ways. First, examiners tested sample keywords using the largest and most popular Internet search engines. Then examiners used full-motion video to record the resulting free and “sponsored” hits that appeared among search engine results. This technique allowed examiners to replicate the experience of the average consumer looking for spare parts. Next, examiners downloaded copies of destination websites so that a judge or jury could later see where trademarked terms appeared on the dealer’s site during specific periods of time. In addition, examiners reviewed the source code of various web pages to determine what relevant data may have been hidden from the average consumer’s eye. Finally, Stroz Friedberg analyzed the dealer’s disclaimer language against Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines concerning online disclosures, link labels, click-through and page locations, and text font size and color.

Stroz Friedberg examiners not only found evidence that the parts dealer had purchased trademarked keywords in order to generate “sponsored” links among search engine results, but examiners also found explicit references to Ford and GVW products within portions of hidden source code know as metatags.

In addition, examiners found hidden phrases or links repeated over and over on certain web pages; potential evidence of an attempt to influence search engine results without the knowledge of consumers. Below is an example of the hidden white-on-white text found in the GVW case.

“get union city body stepvan parts now, buy union city body stepvan parts today, buy union city body stepvan parts now.  New union city body stepvan parts today, get union city body stepvan parts now, buy union city body stepvan parts today. “

Finally, Stroz Friedberg analyzed and captured language about the dealer’s true affiliation in small text under a gray “disclaimer” button at the bottom of certain web pages, and one of the firm’s former FTC managers compared this disclaimer’s language, font size, color, links, and location to the FTC’s criteria for “clear and conspicuous” online disclosures.

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