Amazon Accused Of Misleading Search Results

John Lister's picture

Amazon will have to go to court to defend claims that the search tool on its site misleads customers about the products it stocks. Watchmaker Multi Time Machines (MTM) wants Amazon to make it clearer that it doesn't sell its watches.

MTM specializes in selling expensive watches which are particularly sturdy and water resistant. They are designed to display the time in a way that's easy to read with very little light used; however, some models also have an option to switch on an extremely bright light. Although sold to the public, many of the watches are designed for and used by the military and special operations units.

Special Ops Watches at Heart of Matter

The legal dispute is about what happens when you search on Amazon for "MTM Special Ops" and other terms related to the company's trademarks.

Because Amazon doesn't stock MTM products, none of its watches are listed in the results. However, similar-looking watches from rival manufacturers appear, with the list of results headed by the search term in question. The term even still appears on screen if a customer clicks through to see more details on a particular watch.

MTM believes that runs the risk of confusing customers and making them think some of the listed watches are official MTM Special Ops products. It says the way the results appear is a misleading use of the trademarked terms; it also says that although Amazon is entitled to show rival products in the results, it should make clear it does not sell any MTM watches. According to the firm, that approach is commonly used for search results on other retail sites.

When MTM first launched a court case, Amazon successfully argued that the case was groundless and should be dismissed without going to trial. MTM appealed that verdict and two out of the three judges who heard the appeal agreed to its request.

Case Has Sufficient Doubt, Say Judges

While they aren't making any predictions on whether Multi Time Machines will successfully prove trademark infringement, the judges say there's enough doubt in the case that "the matter can be determined only by resolving genuine issues of material fact," and thus it must go to a full trial. (Source:

The third judge disagreed, however, saying that Amazon's labeling and photographs are clear enough that a reasonable trial couldn't "possibly find that a reasonably prudent consumer accustomed to online shopping would likely be confused by the Amazon search results."

Amazon has already faced a similar dispute in the United Kingdom where it was sued by cosmetics manufacturer Lush. Amazon lost that case and searching for the name now brings up a clear message at the top of the search results page reading "We don't sell Lush cosmetics." (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Should Amazon be clearer about the fact that it doesn't sell MTM's watches? Does the fact that Amazon lists the actual manufacturers mean there's no serious risk of confusion? Should the two sides work out a compromise rather than tying themselves up in court?

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Dennis Faas's picture

It's an interesting case, though I don't believe Amazon is purposely misleading consumers with its search results. However, if Amazon is forced to put a disclaimer about not selling Lush products, it sets precedent for other retailers to come forth and make similar accusations.

Incidentally, I did a search for "MTM Special Ops" using Amazon's search and it showed similar looking watches, but it also says under each name of the watch that it is "By some company" and not "by MTM". As such, I don't think it would be confusing to the consumer that the watches shown in the search results are not genuine MTM products and therefore are not infringing on trademarks.

gbruce40_3626's picture

I think they are purposely misleading consumers. It is to their advantage not to admit they do not sell the subject item. An additional problem caused by their misleading search results is it may lead to the user searching through the results looking for the "MTM' watches, and wasting a lot of time, not to mention the frustration caused.

Clearly it is at least a slightly dishonest attempt to sell a watch, come what may. If they do not carry the item, they should say so, then perhaps list what they do carry.

caryover78_3672's picture

Our local PC group has many seniors and inexperienced PC users. While those who regularly read Infopackets may understand the disclaimer associated with Amazon items I am certain that many of our members would be easily led to think they were ordering the original manufacturer and not a substitute. It should be clearly stated on the Amazon site when a product is a similar and not original item.

f58tammy's picture

If Amazon loses this case then the next logical step would be to sue the search engines for listings that show pages with watches other than MTM Special Ops (we know that won't happen). Yahoo is listing 146,000 pages when I searched the term. It's time these judges start using the "Frivolous Case Law", that was designed to keep these nonsense cases off the court docket. They should make these lawyers bring forth cases that at least meet the required standards that are in-place for a jury to hear a case.

Chief's picture

If I am selling a product and my competition is selling a similar product I do not advertise we are not selling the same product, I sell my product!

Why is it that consumers who are too lazy to do their homework/research are always the first to scream they were 'ripped off'?

This just looks like a shakedown for MTM to get free advertising from someone who does not sell their product.

The very definition of a frivolous lawsuit!

gbruce40_3626's picture

Caveat Emptor my A**. Caveat Emptor or Latin for 'buyer beware' is defined as 'let the buyer beware: the principle that the seller of a product cannot be held responsible for its quality unless it is guaranteed in a warranty' no longer applies in a modern society, and certainly does not apply to search engines.

It has nothing to do with consumers being too lazy to do their homework/research. The original idea of search engines was to make it easier to research a specific item. Now, we get dozens of similar items and often no mention of the searched item. Also we get false search results that are thinly disguised links to competitors items or we get links that are flagged by our virus scanners as unsafe.

Google were done for biasing searches in their favour. You see it all the time in searches and on TV advertising. TV advertisers were forced to provide 'Truth in advertising'. Unfortunately these guidelines seem to have been forgotten and we are now back to anything goes.

It all boils down to greed. The desire to make money and to hell with the consequences.