Amazon infringed on Comphy’s trademark by posting results for “inferior third-party sheets” when consumers searched for terms like “comph” and “comphy” on the Amazon site, according to a new Illinois federal court complaint.
Comphy, a California-based bedding company, has been selling high-end luxury linens and bedding since 2003, with an initial focus on spas and the hospitality market. In response to demand, Comphy expanded its sales directly to consumers and filed for trademark protection for a host of products earlier this year.
According to the complaint, Amazon requested permission on multiple occasions to sell Comphy’s products on Amazon.com. Comphy rejected these solicitations, in part because “at least” one of its customer relationships would be lost as a result.
Despite the refusal to sell its products on the defendant’s site, Amazon “markets, promotes, offers to sell and sells inferior third-party products as ‘Amazon’s Choice for ‘comphy sheets,’” the plaintiff alleges. Moreover, “when ‘comphy’ is searched on defendant’s website…the algorithm populates a page of search results for inferior and unauthorized third-party sheets. The search results page does not indicate that Comphy-brand sheets are unavailable on Amazon.com.”
“Defendant’s actions are likely to cause and have caused actual confusion. Plaintiff has received complaints from retail customers, believing that they purchased actual, quality Comphy-brand sheets from Plaintiff via Amazon.com, about the poor quality of the sheets, or about the failure of the third-party vendor to provide ancillary products offered as an incentive to purchase sheets. The complaints made by third party retail customers are the direct result of Defendant’s unauthorized use of Plaintiff’s trademarks to lead customers to buy inferior third-party products.”
Asserting that Amazon’s actions are “causing irreparable damage to Plaintiff’s growing internet business,” Comphy’s complaint requests injunctive relief to stop the purported trademark violations, as well as treble damages (or, in the alternative, statutory damages for willful trademark counterfeiting of $2 million for each and every use of plaintiff’s trademarks).
To read the complaint in The Comphy Co. v. Amazon.com, click here.
Why it matters: The bedding company faces an uphill challenge to hold Amazon accountable for trademark infringement given case law from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. There, a similar suit was filed by watchmaker Multi Time Machine, arguing that Amazon violated its trademark rights by displaying watches by other manufacturers in search results for “Multi Time Machine.” In concluding that the “search results page makes clear to anyone who can read English that Amazon carries only the brands that are clearly and explicitly listed on the web page,” the federal appellate panel affirmed summary judgment in favor of Amazon in 2015.