GoTo.com puts stop to Mouse's traffic light

Disney’s flagship Internet venture Go.com has run into a legal red light: a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction barring the Walt Disney Co. from using its green and yellow traffic-light logo to represent the portal.

On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. in Los Angeles granted a motion by plaintiff GoTo.com Inc., a Web search engine, to stop Disney from using the Go.com logo for the Go Network because it is confusingly similar to plaintiff’s logo.

Both logos feature a large green circle surrounded by a yellow square. Go.com’s circle was housed in a yellow traffic-light housing.

Pasadena-based GoTo.com had been using its logo since Internet incubator Idealab! (which created online toy store eToys) founded the company in 1997. In fact, billboards for the Web site were up when the Go Network bowed last year, with its own branding campaign and billboards.

Bad timing

The order deals a serious blow to Disney at the worst possible time: Disney is trying to launch Go.com as a separate Internet business to be publicly traded on Wall Street sometime next year and capitalize on the Disney brand, which is embedded throughout the portal.

Reflecting the Mouse House’s serious commitment to the Go Network, Disney has been luring heavy hitters, including former ABC Inc. prexy Steve Bornstein and Buena Vista Television prexy Mort Marcus, to head its Internet efforts.

Disney acquired a 43% stake in popular portal Infoseek in June 1998 to launch Go Network. It has since decided to acquire all of Infoseek; deal is expected to close this week.

Logo surgery

The judge’s decision forces Disney to remove its ubiquitous Go.com logo from the end of all ABC television shows and cable channels (ESPN and the Disney Channel); from magazine ads and billboards for Disney pics; from its Disney cruise line, theme parks, and Web sites (including ABCNews.com and Disney.com); and even from the scoreboard at the games of Disney’s hockey team, the Mighty Ducks.

GoTo.com sued Disney in February, charging that the Mouse House’s newly launched Go Network had unlawfully adopted a logo that was confusingly similar to the one GoTo.com had been using.

In granting the injunction, Judge Hatter ruled that GoTo.com is likely to prevail on its claim that Disney violated the Lanham Act and California state law by using a similar design mark and that GoTo.com will suffer irreparable harm without an injunction. The Web site generates most of its revenues through advertising, giving premiere placement to the highest bidder.

Barring last-minute relief to Disney, the injunction will go into effect today, dependent only on GoTo.com filing a $25,000 bond. It stays in effect pending the trial, tentatively scheduled for March.

Forces redesign

Disney will now have to come up with another design for its logo until the trial in March. In a worst-case scenario, Disney will have to rename the entire Go Network.

GoTo.com CEO Jeffrey Brewer said, “We are thrilled with this ruling. It helps us to eliminate the confusion created by the similarity of Disney’s logo to our own.”

Disney spokesman John Dreyer said, “Since we are confident that our logo does not impinge on that of any other, we are very disappointed in the court’s ruling. We are moving quickly to obtain a stay of the order and to seek an appellate review. It is important to note that this ruling does not affect the use of the name ‘Go.’ We are now in the process of understanding what is involved in carrying out the injunction and intend to bring that to the court’s attention.”

GoTo.com is represented by Pierce O’Donnell and Gary Urwin.

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