On August 8, 2016, the Federal Trade Commission sued 1-800 Contacts, alleging that it entered into anticompetitive bidding agreements with 14 of its rivals. According to the administrative complaint, these bidding agreements are an unfair method of competition because they unreasonably restrain competition for bidding on online search advertising auctions and restrict truthful, non-misleading ads. Previously, 1-800 Contacts alleged that its rivals had engaged in trademark infringement by purchasing advertising space from online search engines when consumers searched for “1-800 Contacts.” Most of 1-800 Contacts’ rivals agreed to settle or avoid lawsuits by entering into the allegedly anticompetitive bidding agreements, which prohibit parties from bidding on their rivals’ trademarked terms. Additionally, all but one of the contracts also require the use of “negative keywords,” which will prevent an advertiser’s name from appearing if a rival’s name is used as a search term.
The FTC’s complaint alleges that the bidding contracts harm both the markets for search term auctions and the retail sales of contact lenses. The administrative trial is scheduled to begin on April 11, 2017.