Last week the Supreme Court refused to consider Tiffany's case against online giant eBay Inc.
In rejecting the appeal on November 29 without offering comment or explanation, the highest court in the U.S. essentially closed the books on a long-running legal battle which threatened the way eBay do business.
The Tiffany lawsuit, first filed back in 2004, alleged that, as the recipients of commission and listing fees, eBay should be held liable for any trademark infringement from the sale of fake goods on the auction site. The luxury jewellers say a significant portion of the Tiffany goods listed on eBay is counterfeit and (even after agreeing to participate in a recent program in which the website would remove auction listings that Tiffany reported as suspicious) say eBay have a "massive counterfeiting problem".
A ruling in favour of Tiffany would have forced eBay to vet their listings, but two lower courts had previously sided with eBay, saying the online auctioneers couldn't be held liable unless they had specific knowledge that particular items might be counterfeit. But in a July 2008 ruling, a U.S. District Court said that ultimately it was the responsibility of the trademark holder to monitor instances of trademark infringement. In April an Appeals court again found in favour of eBay, prompting Tiffany to bring the matter to the Supreme Court.
"The U.S. Supreme Court's... denial is a great victory for eBay and U.S. consumers," said eBay in a statement in response to the court's decision. "We believe this case has always been about Tiffany's efforts to prevent people from buying and selling authentic Tiffany products online, and the culmination of this case validates eBay's business practices. The decision lets stand the prior rulings of both the Court of Appeals and the trial court, which found that eBay exceeds all legal requirements in the fight against counterfeits."
EBay have been in and out of court for years over lawsuits from manufacturers who say the site should do more to stop the sale of fake goods, although only the French courts have proved sympathetic so far.
In May 2009, a French judge ruled that eBay could not be held accountable for the sale of fake L'Oreal products goods on its site, but in November of that year the online giant was fined $2.5m by a French court in a suit brought by fashion conglomerate LVMH.
In that case, the court found that eBay had violated a 2008 order by not stopping the sale of LVMH products, both legitimate and counterfeit, after it had earlier ruled that such items could only be sold by authorised resellers.