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The Internet - Trademark Law

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A trademark is any word, symbol or device, or a combination of the three, that identify an individual's or company's goods or services. Trademarks are registered with the Patent and Trademark Office, but must be protected by the owner. Letters, threats of lawsuits and legal actions are used to stop other people from using the mark. No government agency opposes trademark violation. If public use of the mark is unopposed, the trademark becomes generic and can no longer be claimed exclusively by the individual or company.

In cyberspace, trademark protection has taken strange turns. One area is the domain name for Web sites. In 1992, a Virginia-based firm called Network Solutions won a government contract for a monopoly on Internet name registration. Domain names were handed out on a first-come, first-served basis, and many companies found they were unable to buy their own name for a domain because it had already been sold. In June of 1998, the U. S. government issued a policy paper calling for a non-profit organization to take over domain name management because a corporate name is valuable and third parties should not be allowed to claim or abuse it. The Clinton Administration plans to end federal financing for the management of Internet domain names.

In August of 1998, a Los Angeles judge ruled that one company, Mailbank, did not have the right to register the domains of avery.net and dennisn.net since they were the trade names of office supply venders.

Courts are deciding if trademark infringement is possible when it is invisible, such as when hidden meta tags direct search engines to list a different site from what the consumer expects. For example, Chrysler Corporation has filed against two New York Internet companies, accusing them of trademark infringement for sending would-be customers to a pornographic site. CNN filed suit in Atlanta accusing The Net, Inc., of diluting its trademark and tarnishing its name because The Net uses a Web address similar to CNN's to sell pornography. In 1997, Playboy won a judgment forcing site operators to remove words from their meta tags that made search engines send would-be Playboy visitors elsewhere.

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