Plaintiff Zippo Manufacturing Co. is a Pennsylvania corporation which makes, among other things, the well-known "Zippo" tobacco lighters, and the holder of a trademark on the name ZIPPO. Defendant Zippo Dot Com, Inc. is a California corporation which operates a web site and Internet news service, and the holder of the rights to the domain names ZIPPO.COM, ZIPPO.NET, and ZIPPONEWS.COM. Plaintiff alleges that by using the trademarked name Zippo in numerous locations on its web site and news group messages, Defendant has violated the Federal Trademark Act and various state intellectual property laws. Defendant moves to dismiss for lack of proper jurisdiction.
The court first described the
nature of Defendant's Internet business:
"Dot Com's Web site contains information about the company, advertisements and an application for its Internet news service. The news service itself consists of three levels of membership--public/free, "Original" and "Super." Each successive level offers access to a greater number of Internet newsgroups. A customer who wants to subscribe to either the "Original" or "Super" level of service, fills out an on-line application that asks for a variety of information including the person's name and address. Payment is made by credit card over the Internet or the telephone. The application is then processed and the subscriber is assigned a password which permits the subscriber to view and/or download Internet newsgroup messages that are stored on the Defendant's server in California."
Also relevant to the jurisdiction issue are the Defendant's
contact with the state of Pennsylvania:
"Dot Com's contacts with Pennsylvania have occurred almost exclusively over the Internet. Dot Com's offices, employees and Internet servers are located in California. Dot Com maintains no offices, employees or agents in Pennsylvania. Dot Com's advertising for its service to Pennsylvania residents involves posting information about its service on its Web page, which is accessible to Pennsylvania residents via the Internet. Defendant has approximately 140,000 paying subscribers worldwide. Approximately two percent (3,000) of those subscribers are Pennsylvania residents. These subscribers have contracted to receive Dot Com's service by visiting its Web site and filling out the application. Additionally, Dot Com has entered into agreements with seven Internet access providers in Pennsylvania to permit their subscribers to access Dot Com's news service. Two of these providers are located in the Western District of Pennsylvania."
After analyzing the traditional doctrine of personal
jurisdiction relating both to the state long arm statute and the US Constitution,
the court charted the precedents regarding the Internet and personal jurisdiction:
"Enter the Internet, a global " 'super-network' of over 15,000 computer networks used by over 30 million individuals, corporations, organizations, and educational institutions worldwide." Panavision Intern., L.P. v. Toeppen, 938 F.Supp. 616 (C.D.Cal.1996) (citing American Civil Liberties Union v. Reno, 929 F.Supp. 824, 830-48 (E.D.Pa.1996)). "In recent years, businesses have begun to use the Internet to provide information and products to consumers and other businesses." Id. The Internet makes it possible to conduct business throughout the world entirely from a desktop. With this global revolution looming on the horizon, the development of the law concerning the permissible scope of personal jurisdiction based on Internet use is in its infant stages. The cases are scant. Nevertheless, our review of the available cases and materials reveals that the likelihood that personal jurisdiction can be constitutionally exercised is directly proportionate to the nature and quality of commercial activity that an entity conducts over the Internet. This sliding scale is consistent with well developed personal jurisdiction principles. At one end of the spectrum are situations where a defendant clearly does business over the Internet. If the defendant enters into contracts with residents of a foreign jurisdiction that involve the knowing and repeated transmission of computer files over the Internet, personal jurisdiction is proper. E.g. CompuServe, Inc. v. Patterson, 89 F.3d 1257 (6th Cir.1996). At the opposite end are situations where a defendant has simply posted information on an Internet Web site which is accessible to users in foreign jurisdictions. A passive Web site that does little more than make information available to those who are interested in it is not grounds for the exercise personal jurisdiction. E.g. Bensusan Restaurant Corp., v. King, 937 F.Supp. 295 (S.D.N.Y.1996). The middle ground is occupied by interactive Web sites where a user can exchange information with the host computer. In these cases, the exercise of jurisdiction is determined by examining the level of interactivity and commercial nature of the exchange of information that occurs on the Web site. E.g. Maritz, Inc. v. Cybergold, Inc., 947 F.Supp. 1328 (E.D.Mo.1996)."
Applying the developing sliding scale doctrine to
the facts of the case, the court held that its assertion of personal jurisdiction
over the Defendant was appropriate. The court rejected Defendant's attempt
to analogize its acts as analogous to the passive web site cases described
above, placing it at the other extreme, the "doing business over the Internet"
"we note that this is not an Internet advertising case in the line of Inset Systems and Bensusan, supra. Dot Com has not just posted information on a Web site that is accessible to Pennsylvania residents who are connected to the Internet. This is not even an interactivity case in the line of Maritz, supra. Dot Com has done more than create an interactive Web site through which it exchanges information with Pennsylvania residents in hopes of using that information for commercial gain later. We are not being asked to determine whether Dot Com's Web site alone constitutes the purposeful availment of doing business in Pennsylvania. This is a "doing business over the Internet" case in the line of CompuServe, supra. We are being asked to determine whether Dot Com's conducting of electronic commerce with Pennsylvania residents constitutes the purposeful availment of doing business in Pennsylvania. We conclude that it does. Dot Com has contracted with approximately 3,000 individuals and seven Internet access providers in Pennsylvania. The intended object of these transactions has been the downloading of the electronic messages that form the basis of this suit in Pennsylvania."