The old saw “what you see is not always what you get” should be changed to “what you see is not always what you want”, at least when it comes to search results. American consumers have been complaining for years that their search results often don’t produce the specific products but instead present similar products, and on Monday a U.S. appeals court agreed, saying Amazon has “created a likelihood of confusion” with its search results policies.
A panel of appeals judges ruled two to one that the company will have to face a trademark lawsuit because its online Amazon search results lead to the competitors of a high-end watchmaker.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit published its opinion in Multi Time Machine v. Amazon.com on Monday, overturning a lower court decision that had favored Amazon. Watchmaker Multi Time Machine (MTM) sued Amazon, saying its search results were confusing potential customers.
More on MTM – Amazon search lawsuit
MTM, which does not sell its products on Amazon, alleges that the search results for the phrase “MTM Special Ops” show similar military-style watches from competing brands and do not clarify that the Internet retailer does not stock MTM’s products. Customers often end up purchasing one of the watches carried by Amazon, MTM claims, instead of seeking out its higher-quality (and much more expensive) products.
Amazon argues it never claims to sell MTM’s watches and it’s definitely not saying that any of the products on the list are made by the company. In fact, the first page of results for a search for “MTM watch” lists watches made by other companies such as Casio, Suunto, and Luminox.
Analysts say that’s why the court decision was split. The dissenting opinion on the panel, which was written by Judge Barry Silverman, argues that potential customers who use Amazon would very likely not be confused by the broad scope of the search results. “No reasonably prudent consumer accustomed to shopping online would likely be confused as to the source of the products,” he wrote in his dissent.