Digital Equipment (DEC), which owns the AltaVista search engine, announced today a judge has ruled that AltaVista Technology (ATI) altered the appearance and function of its Web site to resemble the AltaVista search site.
Digital sued ATI last October for a breach of trademark licensing agreement, trademark and servicemark infringement, unfair competition, and trademark dilution. A U.S. District Court in Massachusetts ordered ATI not to use Digital's trademark "in a way that creates the false impression that ATI's Web site is Digital's AltaVista search service."
Now, Judge Nancy Gertner's ruling requires ATI to display the following disclaimer on every page of its Web site: "AltaVista Technology Inc. is not affiliated with Digital Equipment Corporation, AltaVista Internet Software Inc., or the AltaVista search service. The AltaVista Internet search service may be found at http://altavista.digital.com."
But ATI will keep its domain name, "altavista.com."
Gertner's ruling found "ATI dramatically changed the appearance of its Web site, moving it markedly closer to the appearance of Digital's AltaVista Web site...In short, a visitor to ATI's site could easily have the impression that they were actually at Digital's AltaVista site."
Furthermore, the ruling found that "By October 28, 1996, ATI's Web site was designed to look, feel, and function very much like Digital's AltaVista Web site."
ATI creates multimedia email and Web authoring software. But it also offers visitors to its site the option to submit a search--using Digital's AltaVista--from its site. Results carry users to Digital's AltaVista site.
But the defendants started making money off the traffic. "ATI derived revenues from the site and its ties to Digital's AltaVista. It displayed banner ads and solicited other advertisers, who could get information about how they, too, could reach millions of users every day by advertising on ATI's Web site," according to the ruling.
Chuck Malkiel, a spokesman for Digital's AltaVista, said it is impossible to determine how much revenue it is missing out on because consumers do not realize that they are using the wrong search site.
He hopes that the disclaimer will reduce the confusion between the two sites.
"They are required to put the proper URL on their site, so I hope people will actually realize that there are two different sites" and then initially come to Digital's site instead.
Digital bought ATI's rights to the AltaVista trademark in March 1996. At that time, Digital's AltaVista was receiving 4 million information requests per day. At present, it handles more than 30 million hits per weekday.
The agreement between the two companies was designed to reduce confusion by prohibiting ATI from using "AltaVista" as the name of a product or service offering.
ATI in November said that it was surprised by the charges and described them as "unsubstantiated and completely without merit." The company added it had a licensing agreement with Digital outlining the terms for the legal use of the "AltaVista" trademark by both companies.