Playboy Fights For You?

If your Web business has a trademark it fights to protect, raise a glass and toast the people at Playboy.

In the continuing fight between trademark owners and everyone else, Playboy has taken things to a whole new level. The Chicago-based company has sued Excite and Netscape (which uses Excite’s search engine, among others) for bringing up other companies’ ads when users search the engines under the name of its magazine.

When it comes to its trademarks, Playboy plays hardball. Last year, it won $3 million from a Hong Kong outfit that used the words “Playboy” and “Playmate” in their meta-tags, which are designed to attract the attention of search engines. In 1996 it won an order against Tattilo Editrice S.p.A of Italy, ordering that company to give it all subscription revenues from Americans for a site called “Playmen,” again because it infringed the trademark.

Because Yahoo is an index, it’s mainly immune to the bunny’s wrath. Most hits under the disputed term lead back to the magazine’s properties or articles. (For some reason this site is an exception, and appears third on the list.) The top line of an Excite search for the term also takes you back to the company, but then delivers 25,000 other hits (plus the ad that’s the subject of the suit), mostly from other firms’ sites.

The question before you however, dear reader, is whether Playboy has gone too far. Can a company, in the name of protecting its trademark, prevent search engines from selling ads to others under search terms relating to it? Must you only see a Proctor & Gamble ad when you type “Pampers,” for instance? (When I tried this term at Excite, I got an ad for iVillage.)

As I said, it’s an interesting case. The one conclusion I’ll draw, before searching for your comments, is that if I want to really protect my trademark, I want the Hefners’ lawyers on my side.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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