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Legal Ethics

Law Firm Not Liable for Purchasing Competitor’s Name as Keyword to Drive Traffic to Own Website

Posted Jun 8, 2011 10:07 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Once upon a time, when bus benches and the yellow pages offered some of the only ways to promote a personal injury firm effectively, competitors tried to crowd each other out or dominate the space with the biggest ad. It wasn't unheard-of to put a billboard up right next to another law firm's offices.

And, now that the Internet provides another option, purchasing key words to drive traffic to a website is simply another form of acceptable proximity advertising, a Wisconsin judge has ruled. Although Habush Habush & Rottier had argued that it had a privacy right in the names of its name partners, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Charles Kahn Jr. effectively told the plaintiff personal injury firm, "Welcome to the 21st century," reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

While there may be a privacy issue, Kahn held, another law firm's purchase of the names Habush and Rottier as advertising key words on the Internet is a reasonable commercial use.

The Habush firm plans to appeal today's ruling, as competitor Cannon & Dunphy celebrated its victory.

Kahn was somewhat sympathetic to an argument that it is unethical for a law firm to misrepresent itself by using another law firm's name. However, he said there is no ethical prohibition, at present, against doing so.

"The time may come when a legislature, regulatory board or supreme court determines that the conduct at issue in this case is deceptive and misleading and therefore improper," he wrote. "But no such body has yet drawn this conclusion."

Additional and related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "PI Firm Sues Competitor for Hijacking Name in Online Searches"

ABAJournal.com: "Plaintiff Law Firm Bought Competitor Keywords, Too, Argues Defense in Web Ad Suit"

ABAJournal.com: "9th Circuit: Savvy Online Software Shoppers Not Misled by Rival’s Use of Trademarked Keywords"

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