A suit accusing a Cherry Hill-based law firm of using Google’s marketing services to hijack a competitor’s clients has been dismissed after the defendant firm agreed not to engage in such tactics.
Hark & Hark, which also has offices in Philadelphia and King of Prussia, was named in a trademark infringement suit filed in June by fellow South Jersey firm Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, which claimed the Hark firm used Google’s sponsored search feature to lure prospective clients who were seeking information about Helmer Conley.
Helmer Conley voluntarily dismissed the suit Aug. 22, after U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman of the District of New Jersey permanently enjoined Hark & Hark from engaging in the online activities that were the basis of the suit.
Those alleged activities included purchasing or bidding on keywords from search engine operators that are identical or similar to Helmer Conley’s name, and making use of Helmer Conley’s name in any way in connection with its advertising if it is in a manner likely to confuse actual or potential clients.
Hark & Hark also agreed in the consent decree to provide a sworn declaration that it has canceled any and all contracts with search engine operators for keywords that are identical or substantially similar to Helmer Conley’s name.
In addition, Hark & Hark agreed to pay Helmer Conley’s legal fees and costs in connection with the case, according to the latter firm’s counsel in the case, Benjamin Folkman of Folkman Law Offices in Cherry Hill.
“My client was not trying to get anything out of this, other than to get them to stop what they were doing, and they’re satisfied,” Folkman said.
Steven Angstreich of Weir & Partners in Cherry Hill, who represented Hark & Hark, did not return a call about the dismissal of the case.
The suit accused Hark & Hark of contracting with Google’s AdWords online advertising service to draw traffic to its website from those conducting a Google search related to Helmer Conley, based in Haddon Heights. The suit brought claims under the Lanham Act for false advertising, and under New Jersey’s unfair competition and identity theft statutes, as well as common-law claims for unfair competition, tortious interference with prospective economic advantage, commercial appropriation of name or likeness, unjust enrichment, and negligent enablement of imposter fraud.
The suit claimed people conducting Google searches on terms such as “Helmer law office” or “Helmer lawyer” yielded search results with the heading “Helmer Conley Kasselman, Aggressive Criminal Defense,” but the search results themselves listed the New Jersey street address and telephone number of Hark & Hark. Clicking on such a result brought up the Hark & Hark website, Helmer Conley alleged.
Folkman filed the suit on behalf of Helmer Conley and principals Yaron Helmer and James Conley. Helmer Conley’s website lists three partners, four associates and 42 lawyers who are of counsel. Besides Hark & Hark, firm principals Jeffrey Hark and Richard Hark were named as defendants in the suit.
Google generates the “sponsored links” section of its search results screens by charging fees to parties who want their websites to be associated with certain search terms. For example, a matrimonial attorney might pay to have his or her firm name appear at the top of a list of results generated when someone conducts a search on a term such as “divorce lawyer.” Then, each time an internet user clicks on a particular sponsored link, the sponsor of that link is charged a fee by Google.