Judge: Outdated caselaw needs revised to handle Internet issues

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

A dissenting judge in an unfair competition case involving the near simultaneous registrations of the same Internet domain name urged the Indiana Legislature and Supreme Court to “usher Indiana into the technological realities of the 21st Century.”

Judge Patricia Riley dissented from her colleagues Judge Melissa May and Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik in Serenity Springs, Inc. and Laura Ostergren v. The LaPorte County Convention and Visitors Bureau, by and through its Board of Managers, 46A04-1309-MI-470, a case that’s before the appeals court for the second time in a little more than a year.

The LaPorte County Convention and Visitors Bureau sued area hotel-resort Serenity Springs after the resort registered the domain name “” just hours of the visitors bureau announced at a public meeting the phrase “Visit Michigan City LaPorte” was selected as the branding identifier for the area. Because Serenity Springs registered that domain name first – and used it to direct traffic to its website – the visitors bureau was unable to acquire it.

In April 2013, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s holding that permanently enjoined Serenity from using the designation or domain name and ordered the resort to transfer the domain to the bureau. But the trial court hadn’t considered all of the claims before it when it issued that ruling last year, so on remand, the trial court once again ruled in favor of the visitors bureau on its claim of unfair competition and trade name infringement.

The majority, citing Hartzler v. Goshen Churn Ladder Co., 55 Ind. App. 455, 104 N.E. 34 (1914), reversed and ruled in favor of the resort.

“We acknowledge authority from other jurisdictions suggests a ‘single use’ or an ‘initial use’ is sufficient (on an unfair competition claim),” Judge Melissa May wrote. “But even that standard is not met in the case before us; we have only the Bureau’s statement of its intention to commence using that phrase. Serenity Springs’ actions therefore did not amount to unfair competition, and it was error for the trial court to so hold.”

“Visit Michigan City LaPorte,” was not a protectable trade name and Serenity Springs’ use of it was not unfair competition, the majority held.

Judge Patricia Riley, in her dissent, argued that the bureau established a bona fide initial use of the phrase by paying a marketing firm and announcing the results in a televised meeting. But the majority declined to hold paying for a study and announcing its results amounts to even a single or initial “use in trade.”

Riley described Hartzler as “still good law,” but its principles are “difficult to apply to an era where messages can be sent at the speed of light and goods can be purchased by the push of a button.” She noted she could not find a case anywhere that has dealt with the nearly simultaneous registrations of domain names in the context of common law unfair competition, and that Indiana caselaw is extremely sparse with respect to trademarks and trade names.   

“In light of Indiana’s sparse and outdated case law, I would urge our Legislature and supreme court, if the opportunity arises, to look beyond the man and cart method promoted by Hartzler and approved by an out-of-touch majority, and instead usher Indiana into the technological realities of the 21st Century by formulating tools appropriate to handle the complexities of the internet’s realm,” she wrote.



Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Heritage, what Heritage? The New Age is dawning .... an experiment in disordered liberty and social fragmentation is upon us .... "Carmel City Council approved a human rights ordinance with a 4-3 vote Monday night after hearing about two hours of divided public testimony. The ordinance bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, among other traits. Council members Rick Sharp, Carol Schleif, Sue Finkam and Ron Carter voted in favor of it. The three council members opposing it—Luci Snyder, Kevin Rider and Eric Seidensticker—all said they were against any form of discrimination, but had issues with the wording and possible unintended consequences of the proposal." Kardashian is the new Black.

  2. Can anyone please tell me if anyone is appealing the law that certain sex offenders can't be on school property. How is somebody supposed to watch their children's sports games or graduations, this law needs revised such as sex offenders that are on school property must have another non-offender adult with them at all times while on school property. That they must go to the event and then leave directly afterwards. This is only going to hurt the children of the offenders and the father/ son mother/ daughter vice versa relationship. Please email me and let me know if there is a group that is appealing this for reasons other than voting and religion. Thank you.

  3. Should any attorney who argues against the abortion industry, or presents arguments based upon the Founders' concept of Higher Law, (like that marriage precedes the State) have to check in with the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program for a mandatory mental health review? Some think so ... that could certainly cut down on cases such as this "cluttering up" the SCOTUS docket ... use JLAP to deny all uber conservative attorneys licenses and uber conservative representation will tank. If the ends justify the means, why not?

  4. Tell them sherry Mckay told you to call, they're trying to get all the people that have been wronged and held unlawfully to sign up on this class action lawsuit.

  5. Call Young and Young aAttorneys at Law theres ones handling a class action lawsuit