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Protection All Round

1 (2011)

Rights to a trademark in HTML code were recognized as infringed for the first time in Russia.

Russian company Communication Engineering (plaintiff), a client of Gorodissky & Partners, addressed the Arbitration (Commercial) court of St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region with a suit against Russian firm STR (defendant), claiming that when the designation «EXPRO», which is a registered trademark (Certificate No. 294499), is typed in a search bar of the Rambler search engine (http://www. rambler.ru/), the search results page shows under No. 1 a link to a source located on the Internet at www.str-telekom.ru. This source contains information concerning activities of STR, a competitor of the plaintiff, that is involved in the supply of communication equipment. To prove infringement of rights of the trademark, the plaintiff furnished a notarized print copy of the web-site www.str- telekom.ru, and a print copy of the HTML code of the web-page www.str-telekom.ru, according to which the code structure comprises the following record: «title» STR ZAO — main/tele- communications equipment, communications materials, plinth, switching and protection, subscriber protection device, ground systems, EXPRO «title». It should be stressed that the trademark EXPRO existed solely in the field of the HTML document («title» heading) on the defendants web-site. The trademark was directly mentioned neither on the web-site, nor on goods advertised by the site owner.

The main matter in dispute was whether use of a trademark in the HTML code could constitute an infringement of the exclusive rights to such a trademark as provided in article 4(2) of the Russian Trademark Law (the latter was effective at the time of the alleged infringement) if used on the Internet, particularly, in a domain name and via other addressing modes (a similar provision is found in article 1484 of the Russian Civil Code at present).

According to the initial pleading of STR, it had not been established that they had introduced the information into the field «title» in the search engine, or when they did. In fact, as long as Rambler Internet Holding, Russia, was the owner of the Rambler search engine, it was this company that would have been responsible for putting up the information in question. The first instance court agreed with the defen- dants arguments and dismissed the suit. The Court Decision was not subjected to appeal proceedings, although the plaintiff filed a cassation with the Federal Arbitration (Commercial) Court of the North-Western district.

In its opinion for the cassation, the defendant advanced the argument that it was Rambler Internet Holding, not the defendant, that should bear responsibility for placing information on the owned resource. The defendant put forward a new thesis in support of its position:

Article 7(1) of the Russian Law «On Copyright and Neighbouring Rights» (a similar provision is found in article 1259(1) of the Russian Civil Code) states: «Copyright subject matters shall incorporate literary works (including computer programs)». Therefore, the HTML code, being a computer program, enjoys legal protection as an independent subject matter of copyright.

It follows from the foregoing that the mere mentioning of a word sign in a literary work, even if it is registered as a trademark, cannot be regarded as an infringement of exclusive rights to such a trademark.

The defendants representative substantiated its arguments with well-known lines from a poem by Alexander Pushkin: «  …» (A magic moment I remember…) These lines were quoted to demonstrate that Pushkins poem did not breach any rights to the trademark « » (that can be rendered as «MAGIC MOMENT») (Certificate No. 192367).

However, the Federal Arbitration (Commercial) Court of the North-Western district disagreed with this position, reversed the court decision and reman- ded the case for a new trial.

During the new trial, the first instance court engaged as third party Rambler Internet Holding who confirmed in its testimony that the content of the «title» tag (metatag) affected both search results and the web-site position in such search results as users inquiries were processed. Yet, the court decision was to dismiss the suit again, said decision having been left unaltered by the appealing instance. The court referred to experts opinions subject to which the use of the designation EXPRO in the HTML code of the web-site was not regarded as an addressing mode; said codes were a markup language for the original text of the web-document that comprised special symbols (tags) enabling to see a page as it had been created by a designer.

Communication Engineering company had to file another cassation. By a new judgment in this case, the Federal Arbitration (Commercial) Court of the North-Western district cancelled the judicial acts of the first and appeals instances and remanded the case to the same arbitration court for a new trial. As a result of the third trial, the first instance court finally recognized the actions of STR as illegal.

The court established that STR initially had committed an infringement of the rights of the plaintiff as a rightholder while developing the HTML code for its web-site. Consequently, when the word «EXPRO» was inserted in the search engine, this web-site was shown among the search results, but bore no relation to the designation in question. Since the web-site of STR offers similar products to those for which the plaintiffs trademark was registered, defendants use of this trademark caused a leap in visits to its own web-site, the trademark thereby promoting and marketing the products sold by the defendant.

STR argued that Rambler Internet Holding was actually responsible for the information in question, because it was they who administered the web-site and who bore responsibility for developing the HTML code. However, the aforementioned arguments were not accepted. As a matter of fact, the court applied the provisions of Article 10.bis of the Paris Convention to settle a complicated hi-tech dispute in the 21st century: «The countries of the Union are bound to assure to nationals of such countries effective protection against unfair competition. Any act of competition contrary to honest practices in industrial or commercial matters constitutes an act of unfair competition. The following in particular shall be prohibited: all acts of such a nature as to create a confusion by any means whatever with the establishment, the goods, or the industrial or commercial activities, of a competitor».

It was found that for Russian customers, the trademark «EXPRO» was associated with a product of a specific manufacturer. Customers use search engines on the Internet and focus on gaining information about such products specifically. Consequently, the defendant used a designation, the rights to which belong to the plaintiff, in the HTML code of its web-site without any legal and justifiable reasons, thereby unlawfully attracting potential customers in order to promote and market the products offered for sale. This time it was STR that filed an appeal to this decision, but the appeal failed. On January 14, 2011 the Arbitration (Commercial) Court of St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region ceased the litigation on this case.