Ending six years of litigation, a U.S. District Court judge dismissed the false advertising suit brought by Tiffany & Co. against eBay.
The jeweler filed suit against the Internet auction site, claiming that it facilitated and advertised the sale of counterfeit “Tiffany” goods, which constituted direct and contributory trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and false advertising.
In April, the Second Circuit held that eBay did not violate Tiffany’s trademark rights by allowing sellers to list used items from the retailer on its Web site. Click here for further background on the lawsuit.
The court also addressed the issue of whether eBay could be liable for false advertising if Tiffany could establish that eBay’s ads misled or confused consumers.
The court concluded “that there is insufficient evidence in the extensive trial record to support a finding that the ‘challenged advertisements were misleading or confusing.’”
The court noted that plaintiffs typically rely upon survey data that demonstrates a substantial portion of consumers were in fact misled. Tiffany did not introduce any evidence that measured the effect of eBay’s ads on the public.
Instead, Tiffany relied upon the declarations of three eBay customers who believed they bought counterfeit goods on eBay, testimony from a Tiffany employee that the company had received numerous e-mails complaining about counterfeit Tiffany goods on eBay, and 125 e-mails sent by customers to eBay complaining about counterfeit Tiffany goods.
“Even this evidence – deficient as it is to show the effect of the advertisements on consumers in general – does not reveal that any consumer was misled by eBay’s advertisements. In fact, none of the three declarations submitted by the eBay customers refers to any eBay advertisements for Tiffany goods,” the court said.
The court also dismissed Tiffany’s alternative theories of false advertising – false by necessary implication and an intent by eBay to deceive consumers – and ordered that the case be closed.
To read the decision in Tiffany & Co. v. eBay, click here.
Why it matters: Unless Tiffany appeals the decision, it could be the final chapter in the six-year litigation between the companies. Judge Sullivan’s opinion on false advertising claims serves as a powerful reminder to companies that when arguing consumers are confused, they need to produce actual evidence of consumer confusion based on the ads at issue.