TMEP 710.01(b): Internet Evidence

This is the October 2015 Edition of the TMEP

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710.01(b)    Internet Evidence

Articles downloaded from the Internet are admissible as evidence of information available to the general public, and of the way in which a term is being used by the public. However, the weight given to this evidence must be carefully evaluated, because the source may be unknown. See In re Total Quality Grp. Inc., 51 USPQ2d 1474, 1475–76 (TTAB 1999); Raccioppi v. Apogee Inc., 47 USPQ2d 1368, 1370–71 (TTAB 1998). When making Internet evidence part of the record, the examining attorney must both (1) provide complete information as to the date the evidence was published or accessed from the Internet, and its source (e.g., the complete URL address of the website), and (2) download and attach the evidence to the Office action. See Safer Inc. v. OMS Invs. Inc., 94 USPQ2d 1031, 1039 (TTAB 2010). Providing only a website address or hyperlink to Internet materials is insufficient to make such materials of record. In re Powermat Inc., 105 USPQ2d 1789, 1791 (TTAB 2013); In re HSB Solomon Assocs. LLC, 102 USPQ2d 1269, 1274 (TTAB 2012). Because of the transitory nature of Internet postings, websites referenced only by address or hyperlinks may be modified or deleted at a later date without notification. See Safer Inc.,94 USPQ2d at 1039. Thus, information identified only by website address or hyperlink would not be available for verification by the applicant to corroborate or refute. See In re HSB Solomon Assocs. LLC, 102 USPQ2d at 1274.

A list of Internet search results generally has little probative value, because such a list does not show the context in which the term is used on the listed web pages. In re Thomas Nelson, Inc., 97 USPQ2d 1712, 1715 (TTAB 2011); see In re Bayer AG, 488 F.3d 960, 967, 82 USPQ2d 1828, 1833 (Fed. Cir. 2007) (deeming Google® search results that provided very little context of the use of ASPIRINA to be “of little value in assessing the consumer public perception of the ASPIRINA mark”); In re Tea and Sympathy, Inc., 88 USPQ2d 1062, 1064 n.3 (TTAB 2008) (finding truncated Google® search results entitled to little probative weight without additional evidence of how the searched term is used); In re Thomas, 79 USPQ2d 1021, 1026 (TTAB 2006) (rejecting an applicant’s attempt to show weakness of a term in a mark through citation to a large number of Google® “hits” because the “hits” lacked sufficient context); In re King Koil Licensing Co., 79 USPQ2d 1048, 1050 (TTAB 2006) (noting that web page links “do little to show the context within which a term is used on the web page that could be accessed by the link”); In re Remacle, 66 USPQ2d 1222, 1223 n.2 (TTAB 2002) (finding the print-out of Internet search results to be of little probative value due to insufficient text to determine the nature of the information or its relevance); In re Fitch IBCA Inc., 64 USPQ2d 1058, 1060 (TTAB 2002) (noting that “[e]vidence of actual use of a phrase by a website has far greater probative value” than a search summary). The examining attorney should attach copies of the website pages that show how the term is actually used.

As long as it is written in the English language, information originating on foreign websites or in foreign news publications that are accessible to the United States public may be relevant to discern United States consumer impression of a proposed mark. The probative value of such evidence will vary depending upon the context and manner in which the term is used. In Bayer, NEXIS® evidence that originated in foreign publications was deemed to be of “some probative value with respect to prospective consumer perception in the United States,” the Court noting “the growing availability and use of the internet as a resource for news, medical research results, and general medical information.” 488 F.3d at 969, 82 USPQ2d at 1835. In Remacle, the Board held evidence from a website in Great Britain admissible, noting that:

[I]t is reasonable to assume that professionals in medicine, engineering, computers, telecommunications and many other fields are likely to utilize all available resources, regardless of country of origin or medium. Further, the Internet is a resource that is widely available to these same professionals and to the general public in the United States. Particularly in the case before us, involving sophisticated medical technology, it is reasonable to consider a relevant article from an Internet web site, in English, about medical research in another country, Great Britain in this case, because that research is likely to be of interest worldwide regardless of its country of origin.

66 USPQ2d at 1224 n.5. However, the weight given to such evidence depends upon the context and manner in which the term is used. In King Koil, the Board gave only “limited probative value” to the contents of websites of commercial entities outside the United States showing use of the term “breathable” in relation to mattresses and bedding, stating that:

[C]onsumers may visit foreign web sites for informational purposes, even if they are more likely to focus on internet retailers that can easily ship items or make items available for pick up in a store in a location convenient to the purchaser. That would appear especially likely in a case such as this, where the item in question, a mattress, is large and potentially more expensive to ship than a smaller item. Accordingly, while we do not discount entirely the impact of foreign web sites in this case, we find them of much more limited probative value than in the Remacle case.

79 USPQ2d at 1050. See also In re Nieves & Nieves LLC, 113 USPQ2d 1639, 1642 (TTAB 2015) (finding that articles from non-U.S. publications have some probative value because the case concerns the perception of the relevant consumers, i.e., the general U.S. public, regarding the identity of a celebrity who lives and travels outside of the United States); In re Cell Therapeutics, Inc., 67 USPQ2d 1795, 1797–98 (TTAB 2003) (relying on NEXIS® items from foreign wire services to support a refusal and distinguishing earlier decisions that accorded such evidence little probative value given the sophisticated public and the widespread use of personal computers that increase access to such sources).

With respect to evidence taken from the online Wikipedia® encyclopedia, at www.wikipedia.org, the Board has noted that “[t]here are inherent problems regarding the reliability of Wikipedia entries because Wikipedia is a collaborative website that permits anyone to edit the entries,” and has stated as follows:

[T]he Board will consider evidence taken from Wikipedia so long as the non-offering party has an opportunity to rebut that evidence by submitting other evidence that may call into question the accuracy of the particular Wikipedia information. Our consideration of Wikipedia evidence is with the recognition of the limitations inherent with Wikipedia (e.g., that anyone can edit it and submit intentionally false or erroneous information)....

As a collaborative online encyclopedia, Wikipedia is a secondary source of information or a compilation based on other sources. As recommended by the editors of Wikipedia, the information in a particular article should be corroborated. The better practice with respect to Wikipedia evidence is to corroborate the information with other reliable sources, including Wikipedia’s sources.

In re IP Carrier Consulting Grp., 84 USPQ2d 1028, 1032–33 (TTAB 2007).

Given its inherent limitations, any information obtained from Wikipedia® should be treated as having limited probative value. If the examining attorney relies upon Wikipedia® evidence and makes it of record, then additional supportive and corroborative evidence from other sources should also be made of record, especially when issuing final actions.

The examining attorney should check applicant’s own website for information about the goods/services. See In re Promo Ink, 78 USPQ2d 1301, 1303 (TTAB 2006), where the Board rejected applicant’s argument that it was improper for the examining attorney to rely on evidence obtained from applicant’s website when the application was based on intent to use and no specimens were yet required. According to the Board, “[T]he fact that applicant has filed an intent-to-use application does not limit the examining attorney’s evidentiary options, nor does it shield an applicant from producing evidence that it may have in its possession.” Id.; see also In re Reed Elsevier Props. Inc., 482 F.3d 1376, 1379, 82 USPQ2d 1378, 1380 (Fed. Cir. 2007); In re Ameritox Ltd., 101 USPQ2d 1081, 1084–85 (TTAB 2011).

When a document found on the Internet is not the original publication, the examining attorney or Trademark Law Library staff should try to obtain a copy of the originally published document, if practicable. Electronic-only documents are considered to be original publications, and scanned images are considered to be copies of original publications. Internet Usage Policy Notice, 64 Fed. Reg. 33056, 33063 (June 21, 1999).

See TBMP §1208.03 for further information regarding the use of material obtained through the Internet in ex parte proceedings.