Pointless fight: Law has Utah paying legal tab for Internet companies
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Utah Legislature has put the state out on a legal limb in the past, for such moralistic issues as abortion. Defending unconstitutional abortion laws seems to us a waste of taxpayer money, but at least the issue resonates with many constituents.

But what can possibly have been the reasoning of lawmakers who ignored their own legal counsel and passed a bill this year to outlaw the practice - upheld in federal court - of businesses using the names of their competitors to advertise their own products?

Specifically, Utah's Trademark Protection Act is designed to protect businesses that pay the state a fee to register their trademarks, which in this case includes their Web site addresses. Their competitors then are not allowed to contract with search engines to have their own Web page information appear when a consumer searches the Internet for the protected site address.

Google, the world's largest search engine, says the Utah law "hurts consumers, violates free speech and is inconsistent with both established U.S. trademark law and our capitalist system." Google has a good point - several of them.

Federal courts have been consistent in ruling that companies can use trademarked terms in comparative ads. A legislative review note attached to the law warns it has a "high probability of being found unconstitutional."

At least one of the lobbyists behind the law expects the state to be sued over it, and says he told legislators as much.

Still, the act, presented without estimated litigation costs, attracted little attention and less opposition and passed in the session's final days. The governor, just as thoughtlessly, signed it.

Putting a law with such shaky legal legs on the books is only inviting expensive lawsuits that the state will have to battle in court. And for what? If companies believe their Internet site addresses are trademarks protected under intellectual-property laws, let them sue Google and other Internet search companies and bear the costs.

It is fair to ask why the bill's sponsors, Sen. Dan Eastman, R-Bountiful, and Rep. David Clark, R-Santa Clara, would do the bidding of the companies that would be the law's only beneficiaries.

It should be repealed before taxpayers are put on the hook for a costly and pointless court fight.