What’s in a Name? Perhaps Not a Trademark

Posted on July 29, 2017 in IP & Social Media

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Have you ever Googled yourself? (Of course you have.) That’s just what Beverly Stayart did. Curious about what she would find when she checked Yahoo’s search engine, she typed in her name and hit “enter.” What she found upset her greatly. Among the results, she found that her name links to pharmaceutical websites, porn sites and other sites promoting sexual escapades. So she did what any red-blooded American would do: She sued Yahoo.

However, as Evan Brown notes in his Internet Cases blog, Stayart was not successful. First, she asked Yahoo to remove the search results. Yahoo refused. Then she brought her lawsuit, claiming that the results (showing the name “Beverly” or “Bev” Stayart) on the porn and pharma sites implied that she endorsed — which she never did. The District Court sided with Yahoo, and Stayart appealed.

Unfortunately for Stayart, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Yahoo. As Brown points out, they did so for one significant reason: Stayart did not have any “commercial interest” in her name. Although she had written some articles, blog posts and poetry that appeared on the internet — and was involved in charitable causes — this wasn’t enough to be considered “commercial.” In short, Stayart was not using her name in connection with a business.  Nor was her name a registered trademark (like, say, Martha Stewart). Trademark/trade name/false advertising claims are limited to commercial parties.

This leaves an open question: Would the Court have decided the same way if Stayart had had a business that used her name?

For a full text of the decision, click on Stayart v. Yahoo.

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