CHICAGO (CN) – Two Internet dating websites with ties to Europe cannot sort out their trademark dispute in Illinois federal courts, the 7th Circuit ruled.
Be2 Holding, a German company, founded an online-dating service that catered to European singles in 2001. In more recent years, Be2.com’s audience has reached the United States, and it has a Delaware-based subsidiary.
Those companies brought a trademark-infringement suit in Chicago against Nikolay Ivanov, a Bulgarian man living in New Jersey, claiming Ivanov created Be2.net.
Before 2006, Ivanov allegedly operated a Bulgarian dating website called sladurana.com. He moved his company to Be2.net to deliberately mislead consumers, according to the complaint.
Though Ivanov distanced himself from Be2.net in court proceedings and claimed to have been a Sladur volunteer, the plaintiff produced a printout that lists Ivanov as the CEO and co-founder of Be2.net. Another printout of Ivanov’s apparent profile with the social-networking website, LinkedIn, contains the same description.
The plaintiffs claimed they had proper jurisdiction in Chicago since Ivanov’s alleged site had 20 registered users in Illinois.
U.S. District Judge Milton Shadur granted the plaintiffs default judgment when Ivanov failed to answer the complaint or appear in court for a status hearing.
Ivanov eventually retained council and motioned to vacate the judgment, arguing that he had insufficient contact with Illinois to justify jurisdiction.
Ivanov also renewed his protest about his alleged affiliation with Be2.com, claiming that the CEO job title stood for “Centralized Expert Operator,” not “Chief Executive Officer.”
The 7th Circuit concluded that the federal judge had the right idea in discounting Ivanov’s “preposterous” argument about his job title, but ultimately ruled that 20 subscribers was insufficient to trigger jurisdiction.
“Beyond simply operating an interactive website that is accessible from the forum state, a defendant must in some way target the forum state’s market,” Judge David Hamilton wrote for the court.
“There is no evidence that defendant Ivanov targeted or exploited the market in the state that would allow a conclusion that he availed himself of the privilege of doing business in the state.”
On remand, the District Court must vacate the judgment and dismiss the case.