Search Results Are Like Neighborhoods
And other conclusions from a spat between injury lawyers.
Injury lawyers Robert Habush and Daniel Rottier are almost out of luck in their lawsuit against competitors William Cannon and Patrick Dunphy.
Some years ago, Cannon & Dunphy, wily foxes that they are, bid on the keywords "Habush" and "Rottier" on the search engines Google, Yahoo! and Bing, according to the 2009 lawsuit. That meant that any whiplash-suffering plaintiff who searched for "Habush" or "Rottier" ("Why choose anyone else? (R)") would receive a "sponsored result" linking to Cannon & Dunphy's website.
This is not something Habush and Rottier were willing to stand for, obviously, so the two did what they do best and sued for an injunction, alleging an invasion of privacy. State law protects against the use of someone's name in advertising or publicity. I, for example, couldn't start selling Tom Barrett cheeseburgers tomorrow without risking a lawsuit.
Cannon & Dunphy won in Milwaukee County Circuit Court with a ruling by Judge Charles Kahn, and the appeals court upheld the victory, equating the search engine snookering to opening a new branch next to a competitor's location, not to using a competitor's name in an ad.
"This strategy undeniably takes advantage of the name of the established business and its ability to draw potential customers," the ruling says, "but the strategy does not 'use' the name of the business in the same way as putting the name or image of the business in an advertisement or on a product."
Cannon & Dunphy -- who, by the way, are "trial attorneys with a reputation for winning (R)" -- claimed back in 2010 that Habush and Rottier were pulling their own hi-jinks on yellowpages.com, causing their ads to pop up when a suffering victim of a fall or car accident searched for Cannon & Dunphy. Habush and Rottier said they were such big Yellow Pages customers they probably got a free banner ad or something, which is a persuasive argument to anyone in Milwaukee who has looked for a new electrician lately.
Habush and Rottier could still petition the state Supreme Court, which already passed over the case once, in 2012.
(photo by Adrian Palomo)