While courts may not officially be in the business of ghostbusting, a district court in California recently offered some support to a blender manufacturer apparently haunted by a phantom reviewer. The court found that negative internet reviews posted by the shadowy “Chris W” – who is allegedly a front for a competitor – can suffice to state a claim for false advertising under the Lanham Act.
Homeland (the maker of Magic Bullet and Nutribullet) brought a blend of Lanham Act false advertising, trade dress and trade libel claims against Euro-Pro (manufacturer of the competing Nutri Ninja blender line) in the Central District of California based on product packaging, infomercials and “Chris W’s” allegedly false internet reviews. Earlier this month, the court dismissed the false advertising claims related to Euro-Pro’s infomercials and product packaging; the claims for “false internet reviews,” however, had more juice.
Though the court had dismissed an earlier Homeland complaint based on false internet reviews as conclusory, Homeland’s second amended complaint survived because it “point[ed] to a specific review of its product on the internet as well as a comment on that review. The review and the comment allegedly make particular factual statements about Plaintiffs’ products. Plaintiffs allege that these statements are false, and that they are ‘false reviews’ planted by Defendant.”
The “false review” at issue was on a blender review website containing a “consumer” review by “Chris W” stating that the Nutribullet is loud, prone to spill, and dangerous because lubricant from the motor assembly leaks into the blender jar. Upon information and belief, Homeland alleged that the Chris W review was “clearly contrived” by Euro-Pro because of the extreme technical detail provided in describing the mechanical features of the blender. On these facts, and the assumption that reviews on the Internet are in the stream of interstate commerce, the court found that Homeland’s allegations regarding “Chris W’s” comment sufficed to state a claim for false advertising under the Lanham Act.
The case continues and important questions remain: primarily, is Chris W real or is he a corporate specter? [Hopefully, either way, deposition by séance will not be necessary!] In any event, this case should provide some comfort for advertisers beset by the phantom Internet reviewers conjured by competitors.
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