Il secondo circuito delle corti di appello affronta il tema in oggetto.
La 1-800 Contacts inc. (petitioner, di seguito solo: P.), operante nel settore delle lenti a contatto, aveva iniziato a fare pubblicità on line tramite motori di ricerca. Qui però anche altri concorrenti facevano lo stesso. E Tutti erano soliti fare del key advertising, usando reciprocamente i nomi commerciali altrui.
P. prima iniziava liti verso i concorrenti e poi stipulava con essi transazioni (una anche con Luxottica) che regolavano la presenza sulle aste online per acquistare spazi pubblicitari nei search engines (spt. Google search, mancao a dirlo).
La prassi è contestata come violazione dello Sherman Act (intesa restrittiva).
Il secondo circuito in appello con sentenza 11.06.2021, Docket No. 18-3848 , 1-800 CONTACTS INC. v. FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION , ribalta la decisione, ravisando la prevalenza di effetti procompetitivi; cioè accoglie gli effetti procompetitivi allegati da P.
I fatti sono a p. 6 ss, di cui riporto il maccanismo di funzionamenot delle asteo cit.: <<Search engines determine which advertisements to display on a search results page based in part on the relevance or relation of the consumer’s search to various words or phrases called “keywords.” Advertisers bid on these keywords during auctions hosted by the search engines. The highest bidders’ ads aretypically displayed most prominently on a page, though search engines consider other factors when determining where to place an ad on a results page, such as an ad’s quality and relevance to a consumer’s search. Search engines generally do not limit the keywords available to advertisers at auction. As a result, competitors often bid on each other’s brand names so that their ad runs when a consumer searches for a competitor. Brand name terms are often trademarked. Via bidding on “negative keywords,” an advertiser may also prevent its ad from being displayed when a consumer searches for a particular keyword. These negative keywords preclude ads from being displayed even when the search engine independently determined that the ad would be relevant to the consumer. The Commission suggests that this is useful when, for example, a retailer selling eyeglasses has bid on the advertising keyword “glasses” but wants to prevent its ad from appearing in response to the term “wine glasses.”>>.
E sulle transazioni stipulate (con le buone o con le cattive, parrebbe …): <<Each of these agreements includes language that prohibits the parties from using each other’s trademarks, URLs, and variations of trademarks as search advertising keywords. The agreements also require the parties to employ negative keywords so that a search including one party’s trademarks will not trigger a display of the other party’s ads. The agreements do not prohibit parties from bidding on generic keywords such as “contacts” or “contact lenses.”2 Petitioner enforced the agreements when it perceived them to be breached. >>, p. 8.
Il giudice ritiene di dover applicare la rule of reason, p. 24 ss. Gli effetti procompetitivi allegati da P. sono due: <<reduced litigation costs and protecting Petitioner’s trademark rights>>, p. 28.
Il punto più interssante è il secondo. La FTC dice che, non essendoci addebiti di violazione della legge marchi, non va conteggiato come effetto procompetivivo la (miglior) protezione dei marchi.
Il collegio è in disaccordo: <<This was incorrect. Trademarks are by their nature non-exclusionary, and agreements to protect trademark interests are “common, and favored, under the law.” Clorox, 117 F.3d at 55. As a result, “it is difficult to show that an unfavorable trademark agreement creates antitrust concerns.” Id.at 57. This is true even though trademark agreements inherently prevent competitors “from competing as effectively as [they] otherwise might[.]” Id.at 59.>>, p. 28-29.
Anche l’allegazione della FTC, per cui le pretesa di P. di violazione di marchio contro i concorrenti erano infondate (leggi: abusive), viene respinta: <<The Commission, however, decided that the trademark claims that led to the Challenged Agreements were likely meritless. While it claimed not to be determining the validity of Petitioner’s trademark claims, it did just that by weighing the potential validity of the trademark claims in order to show that Petitioner’s procompetitive justification was invalid.12 Even if the Commission’s analysis of the underlying trademark claims were correct, trademark agreements that “only marginally advance trademark policies” can be procompetitive.13Seeid. at 57. Under Clorox, “[e]fforts to protect trademarks, even aggressive ones, serve the competitive purpose of furthering trademark policies.” Id.at 61.That does not mean that every trademark agreement has a legitimate procompetitive justification. If the “provisions relating to trademark protection are auxiliary to an underlying illegal agreement between competitors,” or if there were other exceptional circumstances,14 we would think twice before concluding the challenged conduct has a procompetitive justification. See id. at 60. As in Clorox, however, there is a lack of evidence here that the Challenged Agreements are the “product of anything other than hard-nosed trademark negotiations.”15Id. Consequently, we find Petitioner met its burden at step two.>>
Ampia trattazione degli accordi di delimitazione/coesistenza tra marchi in Ricolfi, Trattato dei marchi, Giappichelli, 2015, II, § 195-196, p. 1685 ss