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by Janet Roberts
A tale of four firms and their in-house trial technology departments.

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by Peter J. Bezek and Darla Anderson*

Imagine that you’re General Counsel for a five-year old company that designs products for the computer industry. From its inception, your company-Design Works-has had a website on the Internet at the domain name www.designworks.com. To further ensure that potential customers searching the Internet will find the company’s website, its metatags include the words “design works.” (Metatags, the computer code that describes a website’s contents, are used by Internet search engines to locate websites responsive to search requests). The website also repeatedly includes the statement, “Design Works’ management team was once part of the Hewlett Packard Design Team.”

All is going well for Design Works until you receive a letter from The Works, Inc. demanding that you transfer the domain name “designworks.com” to The Works, and that Design Works stop using the words “design works” in its metatags. The Works is not one of your competitors; instead, it offers a full range of advertising and promotional services from designing printed material (print ads, brochures, etc.) to constructing websites to creating television commercials. It also markets its service through a website. The Works claims that it has a right to designworks.com because it has a registered trademark for the words DESIGN WORKS. Adding to your troubles is an email you just received from Hewlett Packard’s legal department demanding that Design Works delete from its website any references to Hewlett Packard, including the reference to the owners once being part of its design teams. So, what do you do?

This scenario provides a good illustration of how trademark laws can affect a company’s Internet activities. Unfortunately, most companies only become aware of these laws when they receive notice from a trademark owner that their activities infringe upon the owner’s trademark rights. Design Works now faces three trademark issues that companies typically encounter as a result of their website:

  1. Can a company’s domain name be the same or similar words as another company’s trademark?
  2. Can a company use words in its website metatags that are also other companies’ trademarks?
  3. Can a company use other companies’ trademarks in its website (as content) without violating those companies’ trademark rights?

Trademark Basics

Before taking a closer look at these three Internet trademark issues, let’s review the basic terms and principles of trademark law. A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, design, or combination of those items, that identifies and distinguishes a company’s products or services from those sold by other companies1. (While our examples will involve word trademarks because most Internet trademark issues involve word trademarks, these issues exist with other types of trademark, including those comprising a design, logo, or other symbol). A trademark indicates the source of products or services. For example, consumers seeing the trademark AMAZON.COM connect it immediately to its source-Amazon.com, Inc.-and to the products and services offered by that company-the books, CDs, videos, and other products sold on its website.

A trademark gives its owner the right to use that trademark only in connection with the owner’s specific products or services. A trademark does not give its owner exclusive rights in the words comprising the trademark. (In other words, a trademark owner cannot prevent others from using those words for all purposes). Thus, common names (or generic terms) for products or services can never be trademarks for those products or services because those common names must are available for everyone’s use to describe those products or services. An example of a generic term that could not be a trademark is SCREENWIPE for computer screen wipes. While the word SEATS may be a generic term for chairs or bleachers, it is not generic when used as a trademark for a reservation service. Because a trademark owner’s rights in the trademark are connected to the products or services on which the trademark is used, the same trademark or terms can be used by more than one company selling different products or services. Toyota Motor Corporation was thus allowed to keep LEXUS as a trademark for its luxury automobiles despite Mead Data Central Inc. having the trademark LEXIS for its computerized legal research.

A trademark that easily distinguishes its associated products or services because it is unique and distinctive is a “strong” trademark. Conversely, a weak trademark is one that is neither distinctive nor unique. Companies that select and use distinctive trademarks benefit from the broad protection given to strong trademarks; on the other hand, weak trademarks are entitled to little, if any, protection.

The weakest trademarks are descriptive marks-marks that tell us something about the product or service by describing its characteristics, uses, qualities, or other associated aspects. For example, “Internet Toy Store” could not be a trademark for a website that sells toys because “Internet Toy Store” explains where the store is located (the Internet) and what it sells (toys). Descriptive words acquire distinctiveness (and can then be trademarked) only when consumers associate the descriptive words with the particular products or services. This consumer association is called “secondary meaning.” Put another way, the public must associate a particular product or service with the word that serves as the trademark. Generally, this secondary meaning or distinctiveness develops over time as the trademark owner uses the trademark with a particular product or service. Because it takes considerable time and money to develop trademark rights in descriptive words, it is not wise to choose a “descriptive word” trademark.

The strongest word trademarks are coined words, which are invented specifically to be trademarks (KODAK cameras, ACURA cars, or XEROX photocopiers). Arbitrary trademarks are those using common words that have no relationship to the products or services for which they act as trademarks (AMAZON.COM for an online store selling books, CDs, and videos, and APPLE computers). The next strongest marks are suggestive trademarks, which suggest a quality or characteristic of the product (SUNKIST oranges, LONDON FOG raincoats, and COPPERTONE suntan lotion).

A company acquires ownership in a trademark if it is the first to actually use the trademark in the sale of its products or services in interstate commerce 2. A company that just uses the trademark develops “common law” trademark rights in those geographic locations where the company uses the trademark. Registering the trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) gives the company additional benefits and rights-including the right to use the trademark nationwide, even if the trademark is currently used in just a few states 3. Trademark rights can last indefinitely as long as the trademark owner continues to use the trademark to identify its products and services 4.

The first to use a trademark, the “senior” user, has the right to stop “junior” users from using the same or similar trademarks that are likely to cause consumers to confuse those trademarks with the senior user’s trademark. The trademark owner of a famous trademark can also stop another company’s use of the same trademark even in connection with non-competitive and unrelated products or services if that use dilutes (or lessens) the distinctive quality of the famous trademark because of “blurring,” which occurs when the famous trademark loses its power to identify and distinguish the products or services of the senior user. The recently enacted Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) provides trademark owners with another legal weapon to protect their trademarks against Internet activities involving their trademarks. The ACPA allows a trademark owner in some circumstances to obtain another company’s domain name.

Domain Names

Given what you now know about trademark law, would you advise Design Works that it should be able to keep its domain name, designworks.com, in a dispute with The Works? Or would you advise your company to transfer designworks.com to The Works because it has a registered trademark in DESIGN WORKS? Your answer depends on several factors, including the rights that each company has in the trademark DESIGN WORKS.

This Design Works/The Works dispute points to the inherent conflict between domain names and trademarks. Again, more than one company can use the same trademark if each is using the trademark on different products or services and consumers are not likely to be confused by the multiple uses. However, each domain name, which is the Internet address for websites, is unique. Domain names consist of two parts: the top-level domain, which is the suffix (.com) and a secondary level domain, which is the remainder of the address (“designworks”). The secondary level domain is usually the company’s trademark, the company name, or some word associated with the domain name owner or its products. While there are other top-level domains (.org for non-profit organizations; .edu for educational institutions; .net for networks, and .gov for governmental agencies), “.com” has the most stature for commercial business and is the preferred top-level domain name for businesses. Unlike trademarks, only one company can use the “designworks.com” domain name.

The trademark/domain name conflict is further enhanced by the fact that domain names are registered on a first-come, first-served basis through organizations governed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) 5. The registering organizations (registrars) do not determine whether a requested domain name conflicts with a trademark owned by someone other than requestor for the domain name. Registrars only register the domain name.

Comparing Trademark Rights

The trademark rights that Design Works and The Works each have in DESIGN WORKS are significant in determining which company is entitled to the designworks.com domain name. While Design Works has a common law trademark in DESIGN WORKS because it has used that trademark in connection with its design services for the last five years, The Works has a registered trademark in DESIGN WORKS. If The Works had used the trademark and had obtained the trademark registration before Design Works ever started using DESIGN WORKS as its trademark and domain name, The Works would have superior rights in the trademark DESIGN WORKS.

In such circumstances, The Works would claim basic trademark infringement- Design Works’ use of designworks.com infringes on The Works’ trademark in DESIGN WORKS. To win on its claim, The Works must establish that the designworks.com domain name is likely to confuse consumers into believing a connection exists between The Works and Design Works. Courts determine whether a “likelihood of consumer confusion” exists by comparing the similarities of the two trademarks, the two companies’ products or services (whether those products or services are competitive, related, or unrelated), and the companies’ marketing channel; and by determining the strength of the senior user’s trademark, whether consumers have been actually confused, and the junior user’s reasons for selecting its trademark. The Works’ contention that there would be a likelihood of consumer confusion (and therefore trademark infringement) by Design Works uses of its domain name is supported by three factors:

  • The domain name (designworks.com) is identical to The Works’ registered trademark (DESIGN WORKS).
  • The Works has a “strong” trademark. The Works has used its registered trademark for some time. DESIGN WORKS would be classified as a “suggestive” trademark because it suggests a quality or characteristic of the advertising and promotional services offered by The Works-that good design would “work” in advertising and promotion and that the company offers the “works” (all services) with respect to design services.
  • The companies market their services through the same marketing channel, the Internet.

Design Works’ argument that there is no likelihood of consumer confusion is premised on the fact that its services (computer product design) are different from those offered by The Works (advertising services). Generally in trademark infringement actions, related services are more likely than unrelated services to confuse the public. However, courts have recognized that even dissimilar Internet services can potentially confuse the public because of the nature of the Internet; an Internet user is more likely to assume a common sponsorship when trademarks used at different websites are similar. Finally, the trend in domain name disputes is to favor trademark owners with senior rights. Under these circumstances and given its strong rights in the trademark DESIGN WORKS, The Works is in an excellent position to obtain the designworks.com domain name.

The result is more uncertain if both The Works and Design Works each have rights in the trademark DESIGN WORKS, and neither company has superior rights. Suppose that The Works just started using the trademark DESIGN WORKS at the same time as (or even shortly after) Design Works began using the DESIGN WORKS trademark and the designworks.com domain name, and that The Works obtained its trademark registration in DESIGN WORKS only four years ago. The two companies’ trademark rights in DESIGN WORKS could co-exist because each uses the trademark in connection with different services (computer product design services vs. advertising and promotional services). While each has valid trademark rights in the trademark DESIGN WORKS, Design Works was first to obtain the domain name “designworks.com.” When both companies involved in the dispute have legitimate rights in the trademark and neither is clearly superior to the other, then the company that first obtained the domain name is generally allowed to keep the domain name.

However, if The Works had a famous or well-known trademark, it would have an additional basis for claiming designworks.com. The owner of a famous trademark can prevent uses of that trademark that “dilute” its distinctive quality, even though the junior user uses the trademark with different products or services. A famous or well-known trademark must be easily recognized by consumers as indicating the well-known brand or source. Generally, owners of famous trademarks can use dilution to stop others from using the domain names that are identical or similar to their famous marks. However, famous trademarks composed of ordinary words are examined more closely. Recognizing the Internet’s role as a method of communication, courts are reluctant to grant monopoly rights in trademarks-even famous trademarks-composed of common words.
Domain Name Owner’s Reason for Selecting the Domain Name

The domain name owner’s reason for selecting a particular domain name is another significant factor in determining rights to domain names. A company that obtains a domain name for valid business purposes is in a better position to keep that domain name than a company that knowingly selects the domain name for improper purposes or for “bad faith” reasons. These “bad-faith” reasons include selecting the domain name of a competitor to harm that competitor and cybersquatting-or the obtaining a domain name similar to a well-known trademark to then sell it to the trademark owner. Because domain name registrars do not determine whether a requested domain name is related to existing trademarks, anyone can simply and inexpensively register well-known trademarks or company names as domain names. The trademark owner is prevented from using the domain name that is identical to its trademark because the cybersquatter owns the domain name, although the trademark owner can purchase the domain name from the cybersquatter.

Two procedures are available to a trademark owner to stop the use of domain name that was obtained for improper purposes: the administrative proceeding established by ICANN, and a lawsuit based on the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA). Both remedies allow for the transfer of the domain name to the trademark owner.

In passing the ACPA, Congress recognized that stopping cybersquatting was difficult under current trademark laws. Under the ACPA, a court can order the forfeiture or cancellation of a domain name or the transfer of the domain name to the trademark owner if (1) the trademark is famous or distinctive, (2) the domain name is “identical or confusingly similar to” the trademark, and (3) the domain name owner acted with a bad faith intent to profit from the use of the trademark by using the domain name.

More specifically, to the claim that Design Works acted with in bad faith intent by registering and using designworks.com, The Works would have to show the following:

Design Works intended to divert consumers from The Works’ website to a site accessible at designworks.com for the purpose of harming the goodwill represented by The Works trademark. Design Works diverted these consumers either for commercial gain or to tarnish or disparage the trademark by creating likelihood of confusion as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or endorsement of the website.

  • Design Works offered to sell the domain name to The Works without ever having legitimately offered any products or services at that domain name.
  • Design Works provided false and misleading information when it applied for the designworks.com domain name.
  • Design Works registered or acquired multiple domain names that it knew were identical or confusingly similar to trademarks or others.

A domain name owner that reasonably believes its use of the domain name is lawful does not meet the “bad faith intent to profit” standard set by the ACPA. In the case of Design Works, it could easily believe that its use of the domain name is proper because that domain name is also its company name and the trademark under which Design Works’ services are sold. The reasonableness of this belief is enhanced because The Works uses the trademark DESIGN WORKS for different services and it appears that Design Works did not know of The Works’ trademark when it selected the domain name. The ACPA recognizes that the domain name owner’s trademark or intellectual property rights in the domain name and the domain name owners use of the domain name in connection with its products or services before registering the domain name are significant to oppose a finding of the “bad faith intent to profit.”

The Works would not prevail with a claim under the ACPA because Design Works used the designworks.com domain name to legitimately conduct its business. Design Works did not try to sell the domain name to The Works or act like a cybersquatter in trying to sell other domain names. Thus, Design Works does not have the bad faith intent to profit from The Works’ trademark.

The ACPA implicitly encourages trademark owners to select a distinctive trademark. Insofar as the ACPA applies only when famous or distinctive trademarks are involved. Although most businesses will not have a famous or well-known trademark, which takes time and money to develop, a company can easily obtain a distinctive trademark by selecting carefully coined, arbitrary, or even suggestive trademarks, which are inherently distinctive. Prior to the ACPA, a company might select a distinctive trademark because it was easier to protect and held greater value for the company; the ACPA provides yet another reason to select a distinctive trademark.

In addition to pursuing litigation, a trademark owner can also use the arbitration procedures established by ICANN to recover a domain name. The Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) applies to all domain name owners, who agree to be bound by the policy as a condition of being allowed to register a domain name. The policy creates an arbitration proceeding in which a one- or three-member panel decides who is entitled to the domain name. The trademark owner must establish that the domain name is identical or confusingly similar to the trademark, the domain name owner has no rights or legitimate interest of the domain name, and the domain name was registered and is being used in bad faith. The dispute resolution panel can impose such remedies as transferring the domain name to the trademark owner, allowing the domain name owner to keep the domain name, or canceling the domain name.

The UDRP is not a viable option for The Works because Design Works did not register or use designworks.com in bad faith; indeed, it had a legitimate interest in the words “design works.” For other trademark owners, however, the UDRP can be useful because the domain name owner must participate in arbitration proceeding or lose the domain name by default, and because these proceedings are quicker and often cheaper than a court action. In typical disputes, the panel does not require a hearing, but rather bases its decision on the written arguments and evidence presented by the parties. The panel, whose costs are paid by the entity instituting the action, must render its decision within fourteen days of being appointed. The UDRP has no appeal process; a party dissatisfied with a panel’s decision must pursue a court action.

In sum, Design Works could keep its domain name if its rights in the trademark DESIGN WORKS were comparable to The Works’ trademark rights and it obtained that domain name for a legitimate reason. However, The Works would have a strong claim to the designworks.com domain name if The Works could establish it has superior trademark rights in DESIGN WORKS, or if that trademark were famous, or if Design Works obtained the domain name to cybersquat or to compete unfairly with The Works.

Metatags

The Works complained about Design Works’ use of the words “design works” in its website metatags and demanded that deletion. Should Design Works be allowed to use “design works” in its metatags even if The Works’ trademark is DESIGN WORKS? When can a company use words in its website metatags that are also another company’s trademarks without violating the trademark owner’s rights? Again the answer depends on the website owner’s reasons for using the trademarks its metatags.

Metatags pose a different issue than domain names because metatags are invisible to the consumer and do not directly influence the consumer. Metatags, in HTML 6format describe the website’s contents either through keywords relating to its contents or through an actual description of its contents. The Internet search engines that consumers rely upon for search requests examine website metatags to determine which websites correspond to the search terms entered. The search engine displays a request-matching list of websites ranked according to the relative frequency that key words or phrases appear in the metatags.

A company could divert consumers to its website by including its competitor’s trademark in its metatags. Consumers searching for the competitor’s trademark would be given information on both companies. Although consumers who access both websites may not be confused into believing the two companies are connected, consumers may be lured from the trademark owner’s site to the other company’s website. Using a competitor’s trademarks in metatags for this purpose trades off of the trademark owner’s acquired goodwill. Design Works would not be allowed to use “design works” in its metatags if its aim is to trick Internet users into visiting its website instead of The Works’ website.

However, Design Works could use The Works’ trademark in its metatags if the language accurately described the website contents or referred to Design Works’ trademark. Thus, another company’s trademark can be used in metatags if the language identifies fairly the contents of the website. Design Works uses the words “design works” in its metatags to identify the contents of its website and to serve as relevant keywords. “Design works” are also the company’s business name and the trademark under which it offers its services. This use of ‘design works” in Design Works metatags would be allowed even though the words are also The Works’ trademark.

Other companies’ trademarks can be used in metatags are when they describe the products or services offered by the website owner, or when the website owner uses the trademarks in good faith to index or catalog the contents of the website. For example, a former Playboy model and Playmate of the Year was allowed to use “playboy” and “playmate” in her metatags because the words referenced her identity. Another acceptable metatags use of another company’s trademarks could occur in describing (accurately) the contents of a website even one critical of the trademark owner. A dissatisfied client-who posted websites critical of an interior designer was allowed to use the designer’s name and trademark in the metatags of the websites because the trademark used in the metatags identified fairly the website contents, which provided very negative information and opinions about the designer 7.

Design Works can use words in its metatags that are The Works’ trademark when such language accurately identities the website contents of Design Works, and the company is not trying to divert potential customers from The Works’ website.

Website Content

The last issue Design Works faces is Hewlett Packard’s objection to the statement that the “Design Works’ management team was once part of the Hewlett Packard Design Team”; Hewlett Packard did not authorize Design Works to use its famous trademark, HEWLETT PACKARD, on Design Works’ website. The question raised by this reference to Hewlett Packard is this: Under what circumstances can a trademark be used on another company’s website without infringing or otherwise violating the trademark owner’s rights in its trademark?

Design Works can use another company’s trademark, such as HEWLETT PACKARD, if it makes “fair use” of that trademark by using it descriptively in the sense of describing a person or place or to describing an attribute of a product or service. The reference to HEWLETT PACKARD in Design Works’ website provides accurate historical information about Design Works’ management and further identifies the company’s management team.

Design Works’ situation is similar to that of a former Playboy Playmate, who accurately identified herself as Playmate of the Year for 1981 on her website. Playboy objected to her website use of its famous trademarks (PLAYBOY, PLAYMATE and PLAYMATE OF THE YEAR) in her reference to being a former Playmate of the Year. Her use, however, was held not to infringe on the Playboy’s trademarks because she identified herself accurately and could not otherwise identify as the Playmate of the Year without resorting to absurd descriptions. That she had placed disclaimers on her website stating that her website was not endorsed, sanctioned, or approved by Playboy was significant in finding she did not violate Playboy’s trademark rights.

Design Works should be allowed to keep the Hewlett Packard reference, which merely identifies the company’s management team. Design Works could strengthen its position if it included a disclaimer on its website stating that Design Works is not related to, or sponsored by Hewlett Packard.

In short, a company can use another’s trademark on its website if such use is fair in that it is used to describe a product or service or to identify a person.

Conclusion

Companies conducting business through Internet websites must recognize how trademark law can significant affect their domain name, website metatags, and website content. While a company’s domain name can be the same as another company’s trademark, the domain name owner must have trademark rights in the words comprising the domain name and it must select the domain name for legitimate business reasons. Using another company’s trademark in your website metatags or on the site itself is allowed when that use is a fair use because it accurately describes the website contents or the products or services offered by the company at that website.
* Darla Anderson is a sole practitioner specializing in intellectual property and Internet law. Peter J. Bezek is managing partner of Foley & Bezek LLP a Santa Barbara law firm specializing in commercial business litigation including Internet and patent/trademark litigation, lender liability, business competition and lost profit cases. Foley & Bezek, LLP and the Law Offices of Darla Anderson have partnered on several intellectual property litigation cases.

  1. The term “trademark” is generally used for goods (or products), and the term “service mark” is used for services. Trademark law protects both trademarks and service marks equally. It is common to use the term “mark” when referring to either. ↩︎
  2. A company can also obtain rights in a trademark by filing with Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) a trademark application that states that the company intends to use the trademark in commerce. The company obtains rights in the trademark once the PTO has approved that application and the company has started using the trademark in commerce with its products or services. ↩︎
  3. Other benefits include: (a) The owner of a federal registration is presumed to be the owner of the trademark for the products and services specified in the registration. (b) The owner of a registered trademark may recover penalties and attorneys’ fees in a trademark infringement action. (c) Trademark applications can be filed in other countries based on the United States application. ↩︎
  4. A federal trademark registration lasts 10 years; it can be renewed for 10-year renewal terms as long as the trademark owner still uses trademark. ↩︎
  5. ICANN is a private entity working with the support the United States Commerce Department (www.icann.org). ↩︎
  6. HTML refers to “Hypertext markup language,” which is the computer code used to construct web site pages. ↩︎
  7. It was also recognized that using the trademark in the metatags was the only way that the client could get his message to the public and that a rule that would limit the use of the designer’s trademark to websites sponsored by the designer would effectively foreclose all comment about the designer. ↩︎

by Peter J. Bezek and Robert Curtis

Studies show that when people merely hear information, they retain only about 10 percent of what they hear, while people exposed to a combination of oral information with visual aids retain approximately 85 percent of that information.1 With this in mind, it becomes clear that a trial lawyer who spends most of his courtroom time simply talking about his case will be far less effective than a lawyer who uses an effective combination of the aural and the visual when presenting a case. Trial technology can be used throughout a trial to enhance the jury’s sensory experience and thus enhance the impact and presentation of the opening statement, the examination of witnesses, the presentation of evidence, and the closing statement.

For example, a visually-laden opening statement utilizing courtroom technology could result in a victory for the trial attorney’s client prior to the admission of a single piece of evidence. During the presentation of evidence, trial technology allows trial lawyers to better capture jurors’ attention, elevate juror comprehension of key documents and concepts, and increase the likelihood that the information conveyed will be retained and recalled by jurors during deliberations. Finally, trial technology can be utilized in the closing argument to allow the trial lawyer to visually tie together all of the evidence in a powerful and easily understandable way.

What is Trial Technology?

Ideally, trial technology should allow a lawyer to walk into court with a case’s entire file stored on a laptop and a CD or two, including deposition transcripts, trial exhibits and opening and closing statement presentations.

Trial technology comes in various shapes, forms and price ranges. At a bare minimum, the lawyer will need a quality laptop computer and a computer projector. Software can range widely in price and usefulness; however, two affordable and widely-available software programs, Summation and PowerPoint, will usually suffice.

Summation is a transcript and database management program that allows for instant retrieval and presentation of scanned exhibits and deposition transcripts. PowerPoint is a presentation software that allows the lawyer to highlight or zoom in on portions of exhibits while they are on the screen, without actually altering the exhibit itself. PowerPoint also allows for use of exhibits in opening and closing statement presentations.

The Effective Use of Trial Technology in the Opening Statement

The purpose of an opening statement is to provide the jury with a preview of what is to come. In accordance with the rules of evidence, it provides the experienced plaintiff’s lawyer with possibly the most effective way to win the case: direct communication with the jury. This is true for a number of reasons. An opening statement allows the lawyer to explain his case to the jury in his own words, place the jurors in his client’s shoes, and allow the jurors to see the case from his client’s perspective.2

Perhaps the most important function of an effective opening statement by the plaintiff’s attorney is the lasting impact it has on the jury. This is based on a principle called primacy, which posits that a jury will remember best those things that they hear first3. Research has shown that the “impact of the opening statement consistently reveals that as many as 80 to 90 percent of all jurors have reached their ultimate verdict during or immediately after opening statements. Everything in the trial that follows will be selectively perceived to reinforce decisions which have already been made.”4.Therefore, the principle of primacy holds critical importance for the opening statement at trial because it is the lawyers’ first opportunity to tell the jury about their case.5.

Traditionally, opening statements are predominantly given orally, with the lawyer attempting to use catchphrases and buzzwords to tell his client’s story and keep the jury’s interest. However, in light of the studies reporting a retention level of only 10 percent of oral communication, it can be assumed that much of the traditional lawyer’s oral opening statement is not retained by the jury. 6Effective trial lawyers have caught onto the fact that orally-given opening statements backed with visual aids provide a more effective way to deliver an opening statement to the jury. Trial technology software such as PowerPoint enables the lawyer to create powerful multimedia presentations that capture the jurors’ interest and introduce them to the theme of the case. Done correctly, a visually-enhanced opening statement will leave a lasting impression on a jury.

The Effective Use of Trial Technology in the Case-in-Chief

The use of trial technology during the case-in-chief portion of trial has many benefits. Among the benefits of a technological presentation of the case-in chief are to better maintain jurors’ attention, elevate juror comprehension of key documents and concepts, and increase the likelihood that the information conveyed will be retained and recalled by jurors during deliberations.

For example, by using Summation during witness examination a lawyer can instantly confront a slippery witness or expert with their deposition testimony in big bold print on an overhead projector, where the jurors can read the witness’ previous testimony. This is certainly more powerful than the cumbersome “didn’t you tell me in your deposition that . . . ” while pounding on the deposition transcript. Trial technology provides an instant impact on witness credibility when used properly in these situations.

In addition, instead of jurors having to wait until deliberations to view an exhibit, Summation and PowerPoint allow for display of the exhibit to the witness being questioned and the jury simultaneously. This use of trial technology allows the jurors to follow the supporting documents while the lawyer presents the case. The jury will come to expect the next exhibit or visual to clue them in on where the attorney is taking them 7.

The Effective Use of Trial Technology in the Closing Argument

Trial technology can be utilized in the closing argument to allow the effective trial lawyer to visually bring various strands of evidence together and tie them in to the theme of the case. Jurors, like society at large, are used to receiving information via their television sets. Therefore, the effective trial lawyer will create a closing presentation fashioned like a news story, summarizing the evidence in a way the remains in the jury’s mind during deliberations.

The closing argument is another important place to make a significant impact on the jury. Eighty-eight percent of jurors polled said they thought closing was important 8. Much like the principle of primacy discussed previously, closing arguments are extremely important due to a principle called recency. The principle of recency says humans remember best what they heard or saw last. Attorneys use their closing arguments to argue their side of the facts and ask the jury to rule in their client’s favor. Therefore, a powerful visually-enhanced closing statement can leave the jury with a lasting visual impression of the lawyer’s case and his arguments.

Conclusion

In today’s age of television and the Internet, lawyers who spend considerable time orally teaching jurors about a case and not utilizing visual aids are placing themselves at a severe disadvantage. We learn and comprehend better using sight. Jurors are no different. The creative use of trial technology by a trial lawyer can enhance his or her presentation, optimize the jury’s sensory experience, and impact the ultimate success of his or her case.

_________
Peter J. Bezek is managing partner of Foley & Bezek LLP a Santa Barbara law firm specializing in commercial business litigation including Internet and patent/trademark litigation, lender liability, business competition and lost profit cases. Robert A. Curtis is a litigation associate.


  1. See G. Jacquish & J. Ware, Adopting an Educator Habit of Mind: Modifying What It Means to “Think Like a Lawyer,” 45 Stan L. Rev 1713, 1721 (1993). ↩︎
  2. See P. Zwier & T. Galligan, Technology and Opening Statements: A Bridge to the Virtual Trial of the Twenty-First Century?, 67 Tenn. L. Rev. 523, 524-25 (2000). ↩︎
  3. Steven Lubet, Modern Trial Advocacy: Analysis and Practice (2d ed. 1997) Ch. 11, § III. ↩︎
  4. Donald E. Vinson, Jury Trials: The Psycology of Winning Strategy 171-72 (1986). ↩︎
  5. Timothy Perrin, From O.J. to McVeigh: The Use of Argument in the Opening Statement, 48 Emory L.J. 107, 125 (1999). ↩︎
  6. See G. Jacquish & J. Ware, supra note 1. ↩︎
  7. R. Kraemer & N. Jayne, Courtroom Technology: Lessons to Be Learned from Hollywood, Advocate (May 2000). ↩︎
  8. John B. Mitchell, Why Should the Prosecutor Get the Last Word?, 27 Am. J. Crim. L. 139 (2000). ↩︎

by Peter J. Bezek and Robert A. Curtis
The Internet has become an international marketplace for products and ideas. The Internet’s growth is astonishing: in 1995, there were about 100,000 domain names … in 2000, there were over 24,000,000 domain names ending in ” .com “, ” .net “, and ” .org ” alone.

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Peter J. Bezek and Robert A. Curtis

The vast world of cyberspace and the Internet allow a company to promote its business and products in ways never thought of during the days of print ads and television commercials.  However, the dark side of this burgeoning and lucrative marketing opportunity is that countless competitors are lurking who may use the Internet to infringe on trademarks. Carefully hidden within the computer code of a competitor’s website may be your company’s trademark, trade name, or famous name, placed there in a calculated attempt to lure unwitting customers to your competitor’s website.  In this dog eat dog world of e-commerce, what is a company to do to protect against these calculated trademark infringements?

The most common way people locate a business’ website is through Internet search engines such as Yahoo, Northern Light, Alta Vista, or Lycos.  In conducting Internet searches, Internet users enter key words indicative of a website’s contents or products.  Sometimes, Internet users conduct searches using trademarked words, products, or company names. The search engine then identifies websites that match the key words by finding words or phrases describing the content of a website hidden in its computer code.  These hidden words and phrases are called metatags.

Metatags are fields in the websites that contain key words that pertain to the content of the site, but that are not displayed to users viewing the website.  For example, an airplane manufacturer’s website may have metatags that include words such as planes, airplanes, jets, transportation, flying, and the manufacturer’s name. Businesses select as metatags words that will generate as many hits as possible when users conduct Internet searches. However, some businesses have begun to use their competitors’ names, trademarks, trade names, and product names as metatags within their competing site in attempts to lure unwitting customers to their website.

This trend has spawned a series of recent lawsuits alleging trademark infringement, dilution, and unfair and deceptive trade practices.  One example is Playboy v. Calvin Designer Label, 985 F. Supp. 1220 (N.D. Cal. 1997). In that case, Calvin Designer Label had created an adult entertainment website and used “playboy” and “playmate” as metatags. Their alleged motivation was to generate hits when users conducted Internet searches using those phrases.  The court held that use of Playboy’s trademarks constituted dilution and infringement and issued a preliminary injunction. Under the injunction, the defendant was prohibited from using Playboy’s marks in any manner, including as metatags on its website.

Similarly, in Brookfield Communications, Inc. v. West Coast Entertainment Corp. 174 F.3d 1036 (9th Cir. 1999), Brookfield Communications provided entertainment services and operated a searchable entertainment industry database under the trademark “MovieBuff.” Brookfield sued West Coast Entertainment, a chain of video rental stores, to prevent West Coast from using “MovieBuff” as a metatag on their website.  West Coast’s website included a searchable entertainment database.  The court said that the two marks and their services were similar and lead to “initial interest confusion,” which occurs when a consumer searching for a particular site is lead to another site offering a similar product or service.  The court reasoned that West Coast’s use of “MovieBuff” as a metatag might result in a consumer being initially confused when westcoastvideo.com appears after typing the word “MovieBuff” into an Internet search engine.  The court issued a preliminary injunction to bar West Coast from using “Moviebuff” in its metatags.

Under the Lanham Act, businesses have an affirmative duty to police their trademarks.  Therefore, in order to police their trademark effectively, businesses must address the problem of infringing metatags. Locating infringing metatags can be difficult because the metatags on websites can be changed at any time. As a result, services exist to assist companies in finding infringing metatags. These companies provide corporations and legal professionals with the ability to track the use of trademarks, trade names, and famous names appearing in the title, text, domain name, or metatags of infringing websites.  Once infringing metatags are found, cease-and-desist letters become the most cost-effective way to resolve these matters.  However, if the cease-and-desist letter does not solve the problem, the only way to police your mark properly may be through litigation.

Peter J. Bezek is the cofounder and managing partner of Foley & Bezek, LLP, with offices in Santa Barbara. – Robert A. Curtis is an associate of the firm. Foley & Bezek specializes in Internet, e-commerce and related intellectual property litigation. Their telephone number is (805) 962-9495. © 2004 Foley & Bezek, LLP. All rights reserved.

by Peter J. Bezek and Robert A. Curtis
Internet and e-mail use is proliferating throughout the business world. Employer monitoring of employee Internet use and e-mail is also on an upward swing. But before jumping on the monitoring bandwagon, employers should consider the costs and benefits of monitoring…

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A federal judge last month set deadlines in a proposed class action lawsuit that accused Herbalife Ltd. of operating a pyramid scheme.

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Smith adv. Westport

FBBC successfully defends couple personally sued for $2,400,000 by commercial lender. The lender sued the couple seeking $2,400,000 on a personal guarantee agreement they signed. The couple signed the agreement with the lender guaranteeing the debt of a family member’s business. When that business went under, the lender personally sued the couple for recovery of the entire debt, totaling $2,400,000. If successful, the suit would have economically devastated the couple. After a three-week jury trial, FBBC obtained a complete exoneration for the couple. FBBC proved that the lender had concealed information from the couple, lulling them into signing the guarantee by, among other things, withholding key information from them. As a result, the jury found in favor of the couple on all claims, awarding the lender nothing. The couple is now pursuing recovery of all their legal fees and expenses from the lender.

What began as a telephone call to complain to AT&T Wireless for billing overcharges turned into a nationwide legal slugfest fought on behalf of hundreds of thousands of miffed AT&T customers— ultimately resulting in a hefty $47 million dollar settlement.  Represented by a small Santa Barbara law firm, Austin, Texas resident German Godoy, took his fight to AT&T on behalf of himself and all others who he believed were similarly wronged by AT&T.

The case started when Mr. Godoy decided to cancel his wireless service with AT&T partway through his billing cycle.  Upon receiving his bill, he discovered that he was charged for the entire billing cycle, even though he had only used his telephone for a portion of the month in which he cancelled.  Understandably upset for paying for service he did not want or use, Mr. Godoy contacted Santa Barbara based class action attorneys Foley, Bezek, Behle & Curtis, LLP. Attorneys at Foley, Bezek, Behle & Curtis, LLP together with the Santa Barbara law firm of Arias Ozzello & Gignac, LLP and the Washington State law firm of Tousley Brain and Stephens, PLLC filed a nationwide class action lawsuit against AT&T the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington (AT&T’s principal place of business) for unfair and deceptive billing practices.

The class action alleged that prior to May of 2003, when a customer of AT&T cancelled wireless service, AT&T’s uniform practice was always to “pro rate” the monthly service charge — charging the customer only for the portion of the billing cycle during which the wireless service actually was used (i.e., through the date of cancellation of service). AT&T, however, saw an opportunity to generate additional revenue from its fleeing customers by implemented a uniform company policy of not pro rating but instead charging its customers for a full billing cycle for the month in which the cancellation took place in direct violation of its existing terms and conditions.  This unfair and deceptive practice was intended to quickly generate income from lost customers in the telecom industry equivalent of saying, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”  The class action complaint sought damages for Violation of the Federal Communications Act, Breach of Contract, Unjust Enrichment and Declaratory Relief.   Several months after Mr. Godoy filed his complaint, the firm of Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstien filed a similar complaint and the two actions were consolidated by stipulation.

In the midst of the grueling class action battle with AT&T, Plaintiffs learned of a situation on the east coast that could have potentially wiped-out Mr. Godoy’s entire case.  Unbeknownst to the Plaintiffs, AT&T had recently entered into settlement negotiations with another group of law firms who had filed a similar action in the Superior Court of New Jersey rather than the face the tough prosecution of the action by the Plaintiffs’ team of lawyers.  When Plaintiffs learned of the settlement, which offered just over $2 million in recovery to the class, Plaintiffs were shocked.

Undeterred by the fact that a New Jersey judge had preliminarily approved the settlement, Plaintiffs’ attorneys decided to take the fight to the New Jersey Courts.  Plaintiffs alleged, amongst other things, that the proposed settlement was inadequate and let AT&T off the hook at the consumers’ expense.  Although the New Jersey Judge initially denied Plaintiffs’ motion to intervene into the case, the Plaintiffs’ attorneys ultimately persuaded the Court that the settlement reached in the New Jersey action did not adequately compensate the class.  In a well-reasoned, 11-page decision, the Honorable Judge Bernstein of the Essex County, New Jersey Superior Court concluded that “the settlement was unfair.”  Shortly after the decision, AT&T approached Plaintiffs’ counsel in an attempt to reach a global settlement of both the Washington and New Jersey actions.   In a remarkable turnaround and as a result of the Plaintiffs’ attorneys’ efforts including objecting to the initial settlement and leading the negotiations of the revised settlement, the New Jersey court ultimately approved a revised settlement valued at over $40,000,000 to be distributed to the class of former-AT&T customers

The extreme tenacity of Foley, Bezek, Behle, & Curtis, LLP took what was otherwise a miniscule claim and turned it into a nationwide case that successfully compensated hundreds of thousands of consumers across America and taught AT&T that if they wrong their customers, they will have to pay the price.  This was a true victory for consumers across America.

FBBC helped a family-owned produce company exonerate a debt in excess of $18 million and helped the company obtain a highly lucrative real property reconveyance by the lender valued at over $22 million in a lender liability dispute.

The produce company was a successful family-owned and operated commercial produce grower and packer, in business for more than 50 years. The produce company and a large nationally recognized bank had been engaged in relationship lending for a number of years where the Bank would provide the company the necessary funds to finance each growing season. During the 2009 growing season, the company was forced to close its doors and “default” on its loans to the Bank.

In May 2009, the Bank filed a complaint seeking more than $18 million from the company and its personal guarantor (a principal in the company). The Bank sought to foreclose on all real property owned by the company in repayment of the debt, while claiming that there was a deficiency to be paid personally by the guarantor. The real property had a fair market value, according to the Bank of slightly more than $13,000,000, leaving the guarantor liable for approximately $5,000,000.

The company hired Foley, Bezek, Behle & Curtis, LLP, who promptly went to work opposing the Bank’s Complaint, and mounted a counter-attack. The company filed a cross-complaint, alleging that the Bank caused it millions of dollars in damages on theories of fraud, breach of oral contract, intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, and other lender liability claims.

The Bank tried to end the case early by filing Motions for Summary Judgment in mid-2010. In a 30 page opinion, the Superior Court concluded that the Bank was not entitled to Summary Judgment, but instead would be required to stand trial and defend against the cross-complaint. After careful consideration of the Court’s comments and conclusions in its written ruling, the Bank determined to settle the case by canceling all debt and guarantees, and returning all real estate pledged by the company for a payment slightly in excess of $4.0 million dollars. The effect of the settlement was to release over $18,000,000 in debt and to return real property valued in excess of $22,000,000 for a payment of slightly more than $4.0 million dollars.

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