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Federal Court OKs Amazon's System of Suggesting Alternative Products

timothy posted about a year ago | from the if-you-don't-like-that-you'll-really-hate-this dept.

Businesses 102

concealment writes "Many of us have had the experience of going to Amazon to buy one thing but checking out with a huge shopping cart of items that we didn't initially seek—or even know were available. Amazon's merchandising often benefits Amazon's customers, but trademark owners who lose sales to their competition due to it aren't as thrilled. Fortunately for Amazon, a California federal court recently upheld Amazon's merchandising practices in its internal search results."

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102 comments

cry some more (4, Insightful)

X0563511 (793323) | about a year ago | (#43016217)

Seriously, cry some more.

Or you could actually put effort into selling a better product for competitive pricing and stop bitching that people don't choose you when they get a view of better alternatives.

Re:cry some more (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43016271)

Or you could actually put effort into selling a better product for competitive pricing and stop bitching that people don't choose you when they get a view of better alternatives.

Better prices? They are refusing to sell via Amazon at all and when Amazon offers alternative products clearly labeled as such they sue? Idiots.

Re:cry some more (4, Insightful)

Dexter Herbivore (1322345) | about a year ago | (#43016321)

If this was a physical store, the thought would've never crossed their minds to sue for having similar products on sale in the same section of the store... they might be like Coke and Pepsi and sign exclusivity agreements but no law suit. Is this just a function of it being online and everyone trying to dictate their own model for how things should be done?

Re:cry some more (2)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about a year ago | (#43016415)

So this is the online equivilent of:

"I'll have a Pepsi"
"Sorry, all we have is Coke, is that ok?"

Re:cry some more (1, Insightful)

interval1066 (668936) | about a year ago | (#43016819)

No, its the equivalent of "Oh, bye the way, in addition to Coke we have Pepsi, Sprite, these marvelous ice chests, cool glasses with the Coke logo on them..."

Re:cry some more (1)

bws111 (1216812) | about a year ago | (#43016947)

The other guy was right. They don't have the watch that was searched, but they do have other watches that are similar. The displayed the similar choices. The 'other stuff' (ice chests, etc) has nothing to do with the case, I don't know why the author even bothered mentioning it.

Re:cry some more (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43028637)

That doesn't seem much different from going to the store for Mr. Pibb, finding that they're out, and grabbing some Dr. Pepper from the opposite side of the aisle instead.

- T

Re:cry some more (2)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | about a year ago | (#43017479)

Kinda but it is slightly different when its online. The issue is use of another company's trademark as a keyword by the Amazon's search engine. So you search for Pepsi and it says all we have is Coke, which means that somewhere in Amazon's database there is a record that Pepsi is a fizzy cola based drink, which is being used to generate search results and this is what the lawsuit objected to. Amazon is still way right to do so of course.

Re:cry some more (3, Interesting)

MDMurphy (208495) | about a year ago | (#43017829)

It doesn't have to be a keyword. Amazon has a feature "other people who searched for that bought this". So people could initially have searched for the exclusive watch, not found it and then looked at others. They might even have bought one. Amazon wouldn't have had to do anything specific regarding the "other watch" besides see what people who came looking for it looked at after when they didn't find it.

Re:cry some more (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#43018955)

They might have had a case if a search for MTM watches returned other brands first, but as Amazon doesn't sell those (MTM's choice, apparently) Amazon said, "We don't have that brand, here are some others."

Re:cry some more (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43020387)

Kinda but it is slightly different when its online. The issue is use of another company's trademark as a keyword by the Amazon's search engine. So you search for Pepsi and it says all we have is Coke, which means that somewhere in Amazon's database there is a record that Pepsi is a fizzy cola based drink, which is being used to generate search results and this is what the lawsuit objected to. Amazon is still way right to do so of course.

I don't disagree with you but I thought this was humorous

Kinda but it is slightly different when its human. The issue is use of another company's trademark as a keyword by the waiter's conscience. So you say Pepsi and it says all we have is Coke, which means that somewhere in the waiter's memory there is a record that Pepsi is a fizzy cola based drink, which is being used to generate results and this is what the lawsuit objected to. The waiter is still way right to do so of course.

Re:cry some more (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43018279)

I can't really fault businesses to try every possible avenue to increase their profits. What is asinine to me is that people actually take these complaints seriously. Why doesn't the judge just laugh and ridicule the company bringing the lawsuit rather than legitimizing their petty complaints (which have no basis in law) by letting the trial proceed?

IMHO, this is how it should have gone:

  1. Multi Time Machine - "We don't sell our products on Amazon, but when a customer searches for them Amazon suggests our competitor's products."
  2. Judge - "I realize that this hurts your sales, but it's not illegal. Case dismissed."
  3. [Amazon is never even notified and incurs no legal expenses. If MTM keeps doing this, the judge is free to be much snappier and spend less time reviewing their complaints.]

Re:cry some more (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about a year ago | (#43019173)

Because if you refuse to hear the case, it's a valid case and can be brought up by another thousand monkeys later. If you hear the case, let the lawyers make fools of themselves, then tell everyone involved they're a bunch of morons and can go to hell and to never bring this shit back to the court, the next guy to bring it to court will get a lawyer who is like "In IBM v. SCO, SCO made the same claims and IBM assraped them" and the judge will be like, "Bend over."

Re:cry some more (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43022245)

I wonder how many of the recommendations are in fact the results of co-marketing agreements. Then again, the traditional stores are also usually free to implement such co-offerings organized around themes.

Truly sad (5, Interesting)

Ravensfire (209905) | about a year ago | (#43016283)

Go to a store and you'll generally see competing products next to each other and that's okay. But try to do something similar on-line? Horror! Unfair! Must file lawsuit! It's become our culture but the practice of suing for anything and everything has become utterly ridiculous in the last decade or so.

Re:Truly sad (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43016369)

actually, some companies place restriction on display windows, which in my opinion is very anti-competitive. For example, if a sunglass-maker wants prominent display, they will give you (the store owner) a discount for that premium. Then let that run for a few quarters. Then they may request that all other sunglasses be removed or they will stop the "special" discount - but use other softer terms. If the owner doesn't comply, the manufacturer may go as far as refusing to sell the sunglasses altogether. It's shady, but it's only something that a big brand-name manufacturer can do. If you're a no-name, then the store owner doesn't care.

Re:Truly sad (1)

Rich0 (548339) | about a year ago | (#43017259)

Yup, common practice, and also highly anti-competitive.

If I were dictator I'd ban exclusive agreements of any kind. If you want to sell more data plans then have the best data plan, not an exclusive agreement so that in order to buy the phone you want you have to buy a data plan you don't want.

Re:Truly sad (4, Interesting)

Osiris Ani (230116) | about a year ago | (#43016423)

Go to a store and you'll generally see competing products next to each other and that's okay. But try to do something similar on-line?

...writes the person who clearly didn't read the article. I say that because if you did, you'd know that the products in question quite specifically aren't actually available on Amazon.com.

Re:Truly sad (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43016589)

True. The court case is even worse.

This is like Smuckers refusing to sell jam to a brick and mortar, and then suing the brick and mortar because when customers go looking for Smuckers they instead find a shelf full of other jams.

Re:Truly sad (2)

Joehonkie (665142) | about a year ago | (#43016745)

Right, so like going to a store and asking for a product that they don't have and being directed to similar products. As mentioned in the case and equally insane.

Re:Truly sad (1)

Osiris Ani (230116) | about a year ago | (#43016923)

Right, so like going to a store and asking for a product that they don't have and being directed to similar products. As mentioned in the case and equally insane.

Oh, I'm fully supportive of Amazon's business model, and believe that the lawsuit had no merit; the judge should have hurled the gavel into the general direction of the plaintiff's lawyers heads. It's simply quite wearisome to watch people comment on things they haven't made the most basic effort to understand.

(I know full well that the response to that should be "welcome to Slashdot.")

Re:Truly sad (1)

BryanL (93656) | about a year ago | (#43017021)

A better analogy would be, if I walk into a hardware store asking for Tiffany lamps and the floor worker pointed to the the lighting aisle and said, "All of our lighting products are right there." Could Tiffany sue because there were no Tiffany lamps in the store?

Re:Truly sad (2)

wbr1 (2538558) | about a year ago | (#43016445)

Go to a store and you'll generally see competing products next to each other and that's okay. But try to do something similar on-line? Horror! Unfair! Must file lawsuit! It's become our culture but the practice of suing for anything and everything has become utterly ridiculous in the last decade or so.

This... products are SUPPOSED to compete in a capitalist system. If you cannot survive competition then you should either improve or get out of the way. When I go to Walmart, competing products are within view at all times. When I go to a grocery store, pepsi is beside coke, Coors is near the Bud. I -like- seeing what my options are.

Re:Truly sad (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43017011)

I -like- seeing what my options are.

And stagnant companies hate that. So many companies have bought into the marketting BS that name recognition is all that matters. It's why we have stupid invasive popups and 15 minutes of commercials every half-hour on TV.
I have yet to speak to anyone who will favor such over-advertised products over competitors, it may be the first thing they search for at Amazon, but it has no actual wieght in its favor when the purchase is made. Some of us even develop a personal dislike of such companies that "dare to get in the way of our entertainment!"

Personal extra rant time: Google, if I'm watching a playlist on youtube, at least mix up the commercials. I've seen the 12-minute-unless-I-hit-skip-after-15-seconds preview to that stupid movie that I was never interested in 8 times in a row, and the 9th is not going to convince me to spend $55 or whatever the cost of theater tickets has gotten to these days.

Re:Truly sad (2)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#43018873)

When I go to Walmart, competing products are within view at all times.

Or, in many cases, a bunch of products all produced in the same factory for one mega-holdings-conglomerate are displayed in different colored boxes with different brand names and prices to provide the illusion of choice (and make you feel so smart for buying the $7.99 detergent, because that *must* be a great deal when other detergents are selling for up to $18.99). Proctor & Gamble figured out this scam decades ago, and now it's commonplace. You're very unlikely to see *actual* competition from anyone outside the handful of big oligopoly players who play nice with "industry standard" price fixing.

Re:Truly sad (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year ago | (#43019011)

This... products are SUPPOSED to compete in a capitalist system. If you cannot survive competition then you should either improve or get out of the way.

No, this is the new capitalism where patents, copyright, trademarks, and the government protect your business model -- and you use lawyers to make sure you stay profitable.

Re:Truly sad (1)

chrismcb (983081) | about a year ago | (#43021061)

It is a poorly written article, especially since the summary and the leading paragraph really have nothing to do with the actual court case.
See the product isn't ACTUALLY competing, as the user is never given the choice to see the product, ONLY the product's competitors. I understand where the merchant is coming from, but I agree with the court here. If the merchant feels they are losing to their competitor, perhaps they should work a deal with Amazon to sell their product?
This is like going to a restaurant and asking for Coke, and being told they don't have it, how about a Pepsi.

Re:Truly sad (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43016447)

Go to a store and you'll generally see competing products next to each other and that's okay. But try to do something similar on-line? Horror! Unfair! Must file lawsuit! It's become our culture but the practice of suing for anything and everything has become utterly ridiculous in the last decade or so.

From the sound of TFA, it's even more baffling than that.

1) Watch maker tightly controls who can sell their products, and for whatever reason Amazon isn't on that list.
2) People go to Amazon, and search for one of these specific watches. Amazon can't sell them, so it suggests alternatives instead.
3) Watch maker tries to argue that Amazon is selling competing products under their trademark name.

So it's not even a case of comparing products against each other, it's suggesting an alternative when the consumer can't get the exact product they were looking for. It's not like Amazon was doctoring the item descriptions to make it sound like they came from the first company, they were offering an alternative in the hope they could still get money out of a consumer who couldn't buy what they wanted via the Amazon website.

Re:Truly sad (1)

mk1004 (2488060) | about a year ago | (#43017229)

Yep, the watchmaker limits their resellers to engender a sense of exclusivity with its customers, then sues when potential customers looking at (online) stores not carrying their brand convince some of those customers into buying a competing product. Doh!

Re:Truly sad (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43018057)

It's more amusing than that, during step 2, it's likely that Amazon doesn't know anything about the watch maker's trademark/product, but enough people search for their trademark and the word 'watch' that searches for just their trademark suggest the related search for their trademark and watch, and additionally, of those people who did such a search and bought something, enough of them buy watches that us humans would classify as "competitors" that the first page of results for the 'mark plus watches ends up organically looking like it's just their competitors in the same space, simply by weighting the results by conversion/satisfaction.

Re:Truly sad (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43016929)

Must file lawsuit! It's become our culture but the practice of suing for anything and everything has become utterly ridiculous in the last decade or so.

Our? Do you have a mouse in your pocket, Mr. CEO? It isn;t OUR culture, it's corporate culture. Suing is what the 1% do, the rest of us avoid it like a rabid bat when possible.

Re:Truly sad (1)

MitchDev (2526834) | about a year ago | (#43017319)

Not really, the poor rats also look for any excuse to sue, always grabbing for the quick buck rather than getting a job and earning their way like the rest of us.

Re:Truly sad (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43017799)

Yep. All those 'Were you injured in an accident...', 'Did you or someone you love take drug ...', 'Did you work with abestos...' type ads are aimed squarely at the 1%.

i dont see (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43016287)

how this is different from a salesman in a physical store recommending this or that brand, or product. trademark owners has no complaint imo.

Re:i dont see (1)

Urban Garlic (447282) | about a year ago | (#43017009)

As far as I can tell from the article, the basis of the complaint is that vendors object to the fact that searching on their brand name or model name brings up stuff that's not theirs, and they believe that having these search results show up confuses consumers about who made the products in the search result.

So, if this is the case, then it's like, I go into a physical store, and say to the salesman, "I would like to buy an Apple laptop computer," and the salesman produces a computer, and says "Here is an Inspiron laptop computer, it has many wonderful features." The salesman neglects to mention that the Inspiron is an alternative to, rather than an example of, an Apple computer. The accusation is that the salesman is trading on Apple's good name to sell non-Apple merchandise.

It's similar to when people complain about sponsored search results not being easily distinguished from non-sponsored results.

Re:i dont see (1)

mk1004 (2488060) | about a year ago | (#43017325)

You're right, in the search results for "mtm special ops" Amazon does not state anywhere that it didn't find the exact phrase that was searched for. To be a little clearer, you'd think they could say that, along with "similar products:" Of course, none of the results have that exact phrase in their model name, not even "special ops."

Re:i dont see (1)

Lithdren (605362) | about a year ago | (#43017797)

What I find hilarious about the entire thing is that, Amazon will never find exactly what the customer is searching for.

Know why?

The manufacturer refuses to sell their product on Amazon!! They then sue Amazon when they sugest something else. What in the...

Re:i dont see (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43018133)

WRONG!
go to http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=%22mtm+special+ops%22&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3A%22mtm+special+ops%22

the very first thing you see is:
Your search ""mtm special ops"" did not match any products. ( in Large RED type )

Showing results using some of your search terms

Re:i dont see (1)

mk1004 (2488060) | about a year ago | (#43018191)

RIGHT!

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=mtm+special+ops

It doesn't say that if you don't include quotes, which I suspect most users won't.

Re:i dont see (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | about a year ago | (#43018663)

You're right, in the search results for "mtm special ops" Amazon does not state anywhere that it didn't find the exact phrase that was searched for.

You're wrong. It repeats the search words at the top of the page, but at the bottom is shows you (well, it shows ME) the words it actually used, and "mtm" is lined out.

Two of the 7 watches have one of the words in the title ("special" and "ops"). While 7 of the nine search results are watches, two are books. Amazon's search engine is no different than Google, where the results are based on an "any" search, not an "all."

Re:i dont see (1)

mk1004 (2488060) | about a year ago | (#43027347)

It's actually a little more complicated; the search results I just looked at shows "mtm special ops" with mtm lined out, with several items listed below that, and then "mtm special ops" with ops lined out, and several items listed below that. In each case, you can click a link to "see all X results"

So the top of the page shows watches and doesn't specifically indicated that the search didn't match exactly. You have to look for the 'modified' searches, and even then it doesn't really tell you that the original search term didn't get an exact match.

Brick and Mortar (1)

PPH (736903) | about a year ago | (#43016297)

Stores have been doing this for years. Go in looking for one thing and other brands or items are placed prominently to catch your eye. If you want a better shelf location, you pay the retailer for it.

If you don't like Amazon (or other on-line vendors) from switching "your" customers to their preferred partners, build your own storefront web site. Amazon is the price you pay for getting your stuff up on the web without having to do development work yourself.

Re:Brick and Mortar (5, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#43016381)

In this case, the trademark holder was actively blocking sale of their product on Amazon and then suing Amazon for suggesting similar products that they did have in stock...

The audacity is jaw-dropping.

Re:Brick and Mortar (1, Interesting)

rsborg (111459) | about a year ago | (#43017575)

In this case, the trademark holder was actively blocking sale of their product on Amazon and then suing Amazon for suggesting similar products that they did have in stock...

The audacity is jaw-dropping.

To me it isn't. Can you go into a retail store and see a sign that says "Apple products" with nothing underneath them, and then a big arrow pointing to Samsung, HP, Acer tablets and laptops? That's the assertion here is that you can't use the word "Apple" with bupkis there. I'm pretty sure I've never seen that done - and probably because it's been litigated away by manufacturers and trademark holders.

This is essentially what Amazon is doing by routing searches to competitor's products. Arguably with the retail logic above, the retailer (Amazon) would need to use a generic like "laptops/tablets" instead of the leading mark (ie, Apple).

Re:Brick and Mortar (2)

Obfuscant (592200) | about a year ago | (#43017763)

To me it isn't. Can you go into a retail store and see a sign that says "Apple products" with nothing underneath them, and then a big arrow pointing to Samsung,

Amazon didn't have a sign saying "MTM Special Ops" with an arrow pointing to something else. The website visitor TYPED IN THAT STRING, and Amazon's search engine shows the search string and the results. It's a typical search engine, in that it doesn't even care if all the words match. My search returned not only watches. The "ops" matched a Luminox watch based on "ops" in the name as top result, which then gave the search engine the hint that I was looking for watches that matched that description. I also got hits for movies and games.

This is essentially what Amazon is doing by routing searches to competitor's products. Arguably with the retail logic above, the retailer (Amazon) would need to use a generic like "laptops/tablets" instead of the leading mark (ie, Apple).

How is Amazon's search engine supposed to limit visitors to typing in only approved and authorized words for their searches? "I'm sorry, I cannot search for MTM in the categories 'watches' or 'television' or 'movies'. Try something else, please."

Of course Amazon cannot have a category for "MTM Special Ops Watches", but that's not what happened here.

All trademarks used herein are the property of their respective owners.

Re:Brick and Mortar (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43018285)

Can you go into a retail store and see a sign that says "Apple products" with nothing underneath them, and then a big arrow pointing to Samsung, HP, Acer tablets and laptops?

Sort of. In a brick'n'mortar place, I can search for one brand and get another.

"I'll have a slice of pizza and a Coke."

"We don't have Coke. Is Pepsi alright?"

Re:Brick and Mortar (1)

idontgno (624372) | about a year ago | (#43019137)

If you're going to make a brick-and-mortar analogy, at least try to get the basic facts right.

Walk into a retail store and ask for an Apple computer. The clerk responds "We don't carry Apple... we have HPs, Samsungs, Acers, etc. over there."

And then Apple sues because the store has the audacity to NOT SEND CUSTOMERS OUT THE DOOR.

Re:Brick and Mortar (1)

Firethorn (177587) | about a year ago | (#43020673)

To me it isn't. Can you go into a retail store and see a sign that says "Apple products" with nothing underneath them, and then a big arrow pointing to Samsung, HP, Acer tablets and laptops? That's the assertion here is that you can't use the word "Apple" with bupkis there. I'm pretty sure I've never seen that done - and probably because it's been litigated away by manufacturers and trademark holders.

Bad analogy-It's more like I walk into said retail store and ask an employee "Where do you have your apple laptops" and getting back "Sorry, we don't have apples; but our laptops are over there".

In the article it shows what happens.
1. The user searches for a "MTM special ops" watches.
2. Amazon's search engine doesn't find the MTM watches because MTM doesn't allow amazon to sell them.
3. The search engine automatically loosens the search - removing the quotes restricting it to "mtm special ops", so now it's looking for mtm & watch.
4. This still(likely) results in no listings
5. The search engine loosens the search AGAIN - probably looking for something like 'best 2 out of 3 for "MTM" "special ops" "watches".
6. "special ops watches" gives returns, so amazon's servers display them.

Re:Brick and Mortar (1)

chrismcb (983081) | about a year ago | (#43021073)

You can go to a retail store and ask if they have "Apple products" They'll say 'No, but would you like to buy this Surface instead?" it happens all the time. Go to a restaurant and ask for a "pepsi' or a "cocacola" (whichever they don't have) and see what happens. If they offer the competing product, are they in the wrong?

Re:Brick and Mortar (1)

redlemming (2676941) | about a year ago | (#43029679)

Does anyone consider the actions of the legal professionals representing the trademark holder ethical conduct? Should we have stronger rules for deciding what does and does not constitute ethical conduct for legal professionals?

Re:Brick and Mortar (4, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | about a year ago | (#43016429)

The court noted that in its decision, in a nicely clueful bit of reasoning. They pointed out that it's much like, when asking for Coke at a restaurant that doesn't carry Coke, it is not infringing for the restaurant to offer you Pepsi-Cola or RC Cola as (correctly labeled) alternatives.

Really? (2)

Bartles (1198017) | about a year ago | (#43016335)

I'm so glad Amazon got permission from a Federal Court to engage in commerce. How did this case even make it to Federal Court?

Re:Really? (2)

Trepidity (597) | about a year ago | (#43016397)

Well, it ended up in court because someone filed a lawsuit, formatted their briefs correctly, and paid a filing fee. It was in federal court because it was a claim under federal trademark law. The plaintiff did not, however, actually win.

Why legislation? (4, Insightful)

CaptainNerdCave (982411) | about a year ago | (#43016365)

I really don't understand why the legal system needs to be bothered to deal with this. My tax dollars have better things to do than get wasted deciding "It's acceptable to display multiple products in one place."

If the argument is from $company that "They searched for my expensive product, but bought a cheaper alternative instead! We demand that they not see other items!", then it seems obvious that these people have never shopped anywhere, ever. Generic acetaminophen is sitting right next to Tylenol, but how often does Tylenol lobby to make that illegal?

If anything, the more expensive product company marketing goons need to realize that places like Amazon are doing them a favor because the opposite happens too. A cheap coffee-maker has two stars, but something 50% more expensive has 4.5, so people look to see why it's reviewed so much higher. I know I do.

Peer-reviews have helped many people avoid buying garbage unwittingly, and steered many people to something better suited to their needs.

Re:Why legislation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43016761)

Using the pharma industry as an example - with its massive bribery, lobbying and abuse of the patent system - probably isn't helpful when argueing against anti-competitive practices.

Re:Why legislation? (1)

networkBoy (774728) | about a year ago | (#43018467)

Sure it is.
In this case it's something not even they would do, so it must really be out there in la la land...

Re:Why legislation? (2)

frinkster (149158) | about a year ago | (#43016815)

I really don't understand why the legal system needs to be bothered to deal with this. My tax dollars have better things to do...

There must be some sort of controversy involved. If you file a lawsuit, you must state specifically what the other side is doing wrong, with citations to the relevant laws that prove that such action is wrong. Anything less and the court will sanction you for wasting their time as well as the other side's time.

In this particular case, the shopper is asking Amazon for products made by company A using words which in that particular context and combination form trademarks and/or copyrights owned by company A. Amazon says that they have no products made by company A but that they went ahead and, on behalf of the shopper, ran a different search using words in that particular context and combination which are still trademarks and/or copyrights of company A. Those results produce listing for products made by companies B, C, and D. There is your controversy. The law says that using the trademarks and/or copyrights belonging to company A to sell competing products is unfair, but is Amazon actually being unfair in this instance? Remember that the controversy lies in the Amazon-generated query, not the shopper-generated query.

Determining the answer certainly seems like a fair use of the legal system to me.

Re:Why legislation? (1)

Rich0 (548339) | about a year ago | (#43017303)

The only reason anybody can make this argument is because it is an algorithm.

If I walk into a bar and ask for a particular brand of beer, and they don't sell it, then the bartender is going to suggest something they feel is similar. If I walk into a Honda dealer and ask to see a Camry, are they going to just tell you to go to the Toyota dealer, or are they going to suggest that I might be interested in an Accord?

Re:Why legislation? (2)

Obfuscant (592200) | about a year ago | (#43018589)

If I walk into a Honda dealer and ask to see a Camry, are they going to just tell you to go to the Toyota dealer, or are they going to suggest that I might be interested in an Accord?

Once, a very long time ago, I walked into a fast food joint and asked for "An All American Meal". This was when that phrase was a trademark for one of the major chains. I, of course, was in the wrong chain. They promptly escorted me out the door and warned me not to use those words on their property again. An eavesdropping lawyer notified the correct chain and I was sued in federal court for trademark infringement and fraud. I'm now penniless and destitute.

No, of course not. They sold me their version of the same thing, and we all had a chuckle about it.

Re:Why legislation? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43016835)

You are absolutely right, but the case is a little more subtle than Tylenol/acetaminophen.

The company bringing suit (MTM) sells very specific Special Forces-style watches. They have no products listed on Amazon.

But when an Amazon customer searches for their products by "MTM watch", Amazon presents competing Special Forces-style watches. This is only possible because Amazon is keeping a record of MTM's trademarked name in their database, and knows what kinds of watches are associated with that mark.

The judge has ruled that this causes no brand confusion, and is therefore okay. If Amazon had failed to clearly label the search results as non-MTM watches, there might have been trouble. This mostly glosses over the internal use of the trademark.

A victory for sanity, but in the modern messed-up IP world, a judge could have easily said something stupid instead.

Re:Why legislation? (1)

mk1004 (2488060) | about a year ago | (#43017399)

Actually, Amazon does not state that the search results are not MTM watches. But only a moron user would be confused by that omission, and apparently the court thinks so too.

Re:Why legislation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43018229)

actually, it does.

Re:Why legislation? (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | about a year ago | (#43019129)

This is only possible because Amazon is keeping a record of MTM's trademarked name in their database, and knows what kinds of watches are associated with that mark.

More likely, Amazon just keeps a record of search queries that users have entered that did not result in exact matches, associated with other search queries and/or products that were viewed immediately after. In other words, the usual "people who viewed this have also liked" feature, just extended to search results.

Re:Why legislation? (1)

MitchDev (2526834) | about a year ago | (#43017355)

"Generic acetaminophen is sitting right next to Tylenol, but how often does Tylenol lobby to make that illegal?"

And the odds are good that the Generic stuff is the exact same formula as the Tylenol, and is made and bottled and packaged by the maker of Tylenol and the Tylenol costs the same to make, but people are awed by the big famous brand name "TYLENOL" and pay 2-3 times as much for the exact same thing...

Re:Why legislation? (1)

chrismcb (983081) | about a year ago | (#43021095)

I really don't understand why the legal system needs to be bothered to deal with this.

Because an American company (along with American workers) felt they were being taken advantage of. If you had a problem, and you felt you were in the right, don't you think you should "have your day in court?" But I bet a bunch of other Americans probably feel "why is my tax dollars paying for this yahoos lawsuit?"
This lawsuit wasn't exactly frivolous. Yes it seems to be common sense, but until something like this is tested in court, it is difficult to say. That is what the court system is for.

What? (2)

SolitaryMan (538416) | about a year ago | (#43016463)

Many of us have had the experience of going to Amazon to buy one thing but checking out with a huge shopping cart of items that we didn't initially seek—or even know were available.

Honestly, no idea what are you talking about. I only see ads for the stuff I JUST BOUGHT from them. Which I find pretty funny and stupid.

Re:What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43017079)

To be fair, that ONE TIME I accidentally bought only a single brake rotor, thinking I was buying a pair, this made it at least 3% faster to buy the missing rotor.

Re:What? (1)

Rich0 (548339) | about a year ago | (#43017321)

Glad somebody finds it useful. Now I know to hit the "this is a gift" checkbox even if not giftwrapping, but the recommendations are still heavily slanted to whatever mp3s I last bought for the kids.

Re:What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43018593)

There's a page where you can modify the products that it uses to do the recommendations for you. I forget how to get there but I know it has the option to tell it not to use an item you bought as a recommendation factor.

Re:What? (1)

chrismcb (983081) | about a year ago | (#43021113)

Honestly, no idea what are you talking about. I only see ads...

So I take it you don't actually use Amazon? These aren't ads. Go to any item on Amazon.
You'll usually find a "frequently bought together" and a "customers who bought this item also bought"
Or better yet, do a search... ANY search. Amazon will return a list of products (not ads, products) that are related to your search in some way. Some of the items will be items you probably wouldn't expect to show up in the search.
None of these things are ads, not sure why you think ads are involved.

lousy summary! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43016497)

Dude! Lousy summary! Reading the first sentence makes it sound like Amazon is silently replacing what you selected to buy with something else.

Editors, please take some editing courses!

The real outrage (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43016499)

...is that Amazon had to get permission at all.

Who really owns Amazon, the shareholders or the government?

The case of Douche vs. Bag (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43016501)

Amazon's search results are bogus. If I wanted that specific brand, and searched for it I should get links to that specific brand if they're available in the store.

MTM's policy is bogus. If I want to resell their watches after having legally purchased one, I should be able to do that any way I want. I should even be able to package it with rubber doggy-do and sell it as a bundle.

I agree with the court that the store has the right to display whatever it wants in search results; but doesn't mean it isn't a douchy move. So, from my PoV it's a couple of douche-bag companies slogging it out.... it's like being a 'skins fan and watching Dallas play Philly. You wish there was a way they could both lose.

what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43016511)

>Many of us have had the experience of going to Amazon to buy one thing but checking out with a huge shopping cart of items that we didn't initially seek

Er, no. Maybe your parents should teach you some common sense regarding money.

Their suggestion setup pisses me off. (1)

pecosdave (536896) | about a year ago | (#43016653)

I of course look for technical things and get marketing results.

When I type in "Bluetooth Keyboard" I want a stupid Bluetooth Keyboard that operates on the Bluetooth Protocol and does not require that I plug an extra dongle into my machine. I do not want to be offered a single Bluetooth Keyboard followed by a dozen Logitech and Microsoft wireless keyboards where when I hit Ctrl+F the term bluetooth isn't even on the page!

Try going through the games section without even touching your keyboard to type and click through the game categories until you get Linux games. Dozens of games not compatible with Linux.

Try looking for a specific Android tablet, every other result or so is a Kindle Fire, and NOT a Transformer or whatever.

Legal? Yes. Annoying? Certainly.

Re:Their suggestion setup pisses me off. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43017043)

Wait, you use a retailer's web site (which only exists to sell you stuff) to search 'technical things' and get pissed of when you get marketing results back?

Re:Their suggestion setup pisses me off. (1)

pecosdave (536896) | about a year ago | (#43017879)

When I walk into a generic food establishment and ask for a burrito I don't expect to hear "Hey how about our spaghetti menu?" even if it is the new product they're pushing. I expect to hear "Beef, chicken or pork?"

Re:Their suggestion setup pisses me off. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43018173)

who you like fries with that?

Re:Their suggestion setup pisses me off. (1)

bws111 (1216812) | about a year ago | (#43018189)

When you do that in a restaurant you are ordering. Amazon does not offer alternatives when you actually order, they send you whatever you purchased. When you search on Amazon you are looking at the menu, not yet ordering. Do you complain because the menu also contains items you do not want to see? And if you go to a restaurant (good ones anyway) often enough that they get to know you they WILL often offer suggestions of things they think you might be interested in, even after you order 'the usual'.

Re:Their suggestion setup pisses me off. (1)

pecosdave (536896) | about a year ago | (#43018689)

Give me your wine menu!

*Hands list of ice-cream flavors.

I don't deny having some of those in there would be a good idea, but stead of being positions 2-35 maybe start sprinkling them in around eight or nine and increasing in frequency from there?

Re:Their suggestion setup pisses me off. (1)

pecosdave (536896) | about a year ago | (#43018877)

Amazon does not offer alternatives when you actually order, they send you whatever you purchased.

Well, that's about 85% true anyways. I've had too many exceptions to that to agree with the statement.

I applaud the court's ruling (1)

MitchDev (2526834) | about a year ago | (#43017261)

but really? Why was this even a lawsuit?

and as for "Many of us have had the experience of going to Amazon to buy one thing but checking out with a huge shopping cart of items that we didn't initially seek"
Never done that. I go find what I want order it. Other things that might be interest might go on the Wih List, but never gone in for one thing and got a ton more at the same time.

Sounds like really really poor impulse control issues...

Suggestions for subtly incorrect items (1)

maas15 (1357089) | about a year ago | (#43017269)

I find it really funny that Amazon is patenting their suggestion system since it's responsable for nearly every mis-purchased item I buy from Amazon. I wind up with GSM phones intead of CDMA (but in a better color), asus keyboards for a laptop I don't own, and a wireless access point instead of a wireless range extender! They should try to think of/patent a system for suggesting items that have the same important attributes and basic utility. It wouldn't kill Amazon to patent something that's not blaitantly obvious.

Re:Suggestions for subtly incorrect items (3, Informative)

Lithdren (605362) | about a year ago | (#43017865)

Or you could read the product descriptions before clicking the 1-click purchase button and save yourself a lot of headache. ...oh shit, thats why they patented that!

Re:Suggestions for subtly incorrect items (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43018109)

Really need some mod points right now to shower you with....

Re:Suggestions for subtly incorrect items (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43017883)

Maybe they should file a patent for screening customers who are complete morons and blindly purchase whatever they show. You know, like you.

Re:Suggestions for subtly incorrect items (1)

maas15 (1357089) | about a year ago | (#43018135)

u r such an amazon luver u amazon luver 3 3 3 that was totally an amazon answer

Re:Suggestions for subtly incorrect items (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | about a year ago | (#43019163)

I've made a lot of Amazon purchases over the last 2 years, and quite a few of them were from their suggestion system. Not once I had the problems that you describe. Do you even read the descriptions of items that you buy? If not, then it's a classic case of PEBKAC, and you should be ashamed of even mentioning this kind of thing in public.

Sponsored link (1)

MDMurphy (208495) | about a year ago | (#43017887)

I don't know if it was a case of "if you can't beat them join them" but when I searched for "MTM watch" on Amazon there was a sponsored link by the plaintiff on a resulting page. So they appear to be paying Amazon ( directly or indirectly ) when someone searches there to give them a link back.

Oh, amazon search _intentionally_ sucks... (1)

technosaurus (1704630) | about a year ago | (#43017895)

That explains it - MBAs. Here, I just thought their programmers were too incompetent to write a decent search algorithm. If the algorithm is designed for max profit rather than user results, I change my opinion from lousy to sleezy.

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