Some of the UK's leading IT services companies, including EDS, have threatened to take legal action against a consultancy over allegations that it wrote competitors names into its Web site code to attract online traffic and boost business.
In a high-profile dispute with ramifications for any business with a Web site, IT service giant EDS and outsourcing consultancy Morgan Chambers have accused Orbys Consulting of secretly including their company names in the hidden "meta tag" code of the Orbys Web site.
This practice breaches the Trade Marks Act 1994, Morgan Chambers and EDS believe, in what could be the biggest test of UK trade mark law in the Internet age.
The addition of these meta tags would mean that searching the Web for "Morgan Chambers" would include references to Orbys in the results, potentially redirecting customers.
Orbys, a London-based outsourcing consultancy targets a wide range of industries, including financial services, retail and energy. Previous clients include BP Amoco and oil giant Lasmo.
Other companies allegedly named in the Orbys meta tags include IT analyst Gartner, IBM, Andersen Consulting and IT services group ICL, according to extensive legal papers prepared for Morgan Chambers and seen by Computer Weekly.
In faxes and letters issued to Orbys earlier this week Morgan Chambers and EDS demand that Orbys removes the alleged rogue meta tags from its Web site or face separate legal action for the infringement of trademarks.
Morgan Chambers also demands that Orbys contacts search engines, including Altavista and Yahoo, within two weeks, to inform them that the Orbys Web site should not be associated with Morgan Chambers under search engine queries.
"Your use of our trade mark in your Web site's meta tags amounts to a blatant infringement of our trade mark rights," the Morgan Chambers letter claims. "You are passing yourselves off and/or your services as being those of Morgan Chambers."
As Computer Weekly went to press, David Keighley, managing director of Orbys, denied that its meta tags naming competitors were illegal, or an infringement of a trade mark.
But he added that Orbys would be "happy" to remove the disputed meta tags from its site due to concern from EDS and Morgan Chambers.
David Engel, a solicitor at Theodore Goddard, declined to comment on the Orbys dispute but said UK businesses should legally audit their Web sites to avoid similar disputes.