3M Sues Online Retailer Over Post-it Trademark

The Maplewood-based company claims that it has asked Shoplet.com to change the way its Web site search engine uses the Post-it trademark, but the site continues to list competitors' products prior to 3M's when the words "Post-it" are searched.

3M Company last week filed a lawsuit against an online retailer, alleging that the way in which 3M's trademarks are used on the retailer's Web site and its search results constitute infringement.

The Maplewood-based manufacturer claims that Ellison Systems, Inc., which operates the Shoplet.com Web site, has infringed on the famous Post-it trademark, which 3M refers to as “one of the most famous brands in the United States.”

Shoplet.com sells office supplies made by multiple manufacturers, and like most Web sites, it features a search function through which customers can locate desired products.

But when Shoplet.com visitors search the words “Post-it,” the site yields a list of adhesive-backed notes made by Universal and other 3M competitors, the suit says. In fact, 3M products often don't show up anywhere on the first page of search results, despite the fact that Shoplet.com indicates that the results are filtered based on relevance.

Further, the “Post-it” search causes a list of manufacturers to appear in the left column of the Web page, and Universal tops that list as well. Sparco, another 3M competitor, also shows up above 3M, according to the suit. When a customer clicks on the name of a manufacturer, they are directed to a page that includes the company's name-in large red letters-followed by the words “Post-it.”

A Friday morning search on the Web site yielded similar results to those described in 3M's lawsuit. The company claims that it has repeatedly asked Shoplet.com to halt these practices, but to no avail.

A Shoplet.com spokesman on Friday declined to comment on the case, stating that the company does not discuss pending litigation.

According to 3M's lawsuit, Shoplet.com also asks manufacturers to pay a fee to receive prominent placement on its site, but it doesn't tell customers that the search results include paid advertisements.

3M claims that through Shoplet.com's practices, 3M's competitors benefit from the positive connotations associated with the Post-it name. The lawsuit asks that Shoplet.com be required to stop using the Post-it trademark “in a manner that is likely to confuse consumers or to dilute the distinctive quality” of the trademark. 3M also seeks unspecified damages, attorney's fees, and other costs.

Electronically filed public court records indicate that Shoplet.com had not formally responded to the lawsuit on Friday morning.

3M is Minnesota's fifth-largest public company based on its 2009 revenue, which totaled $23.1 billion. The company reported revenues of $26.7 billion in 2010.