Meta tagging presents an interesting case for intellectual property law. Meta tagging refers to tags, or words, that web site designers place into the source of a web page. If you right click on a website and select view source, you can see these tags. They are a way of describing what the web site is about so that search engines can direct web surfers looking for particular information to sites that actually contain that particular information.
As it stands, the law is unsettled as to whether it is lawful to use another’s trademarks in your meta tags. For example, if you operate a website that concerned all things Microsoft, you might be tempted to include meta tags on your pages with words of all of Microsoft’s products so that people searching for those things would go to your page. The competing legal concerns are whether this is a legitimate use of trademarked terms or whether this is a form of trademark confusion for consumers.
Here are a few of the rulings that various federal courts have made on these meta tag issues:
- Using a competitor’s trademarked words in meta tags to boost search engine rankings constituted a “use in commerce,” and this would likely cause consumer confusion
- Other federal courts have come to the opposite conclusion, noting that, because most search engines today make little use of meta tags for indexing sites, using another’s trademarks as meta tags does not pose a problem (how the search engine in question works is an important topic to explore)
- Software that uses a site’s own meta tags to display pop-up advertisements for competitors’ products did not cause consumer confusion problems
You do need to tread carefully in this area of the law. Different federal courts have reached different opinions, so you should consult with an intellectual property attorney to avoid potential litigation if you have concerns about the use of meta tags or other intellectual property on your company’s website.
How does your business make sure that it appears on the top of search engine rankings? Do you still use meta tags?