Lance Farrell
Lance Farrell

Seekers of a toned body and healthy lifestyle could be led down the wrong path if their quest includes a visit to the Internet.

A trademark infringement lawsuit claims that the owners of Kosama, a relative newcomer among Greater Des Moines fitness centers, is directing Internet traffic to its websites, blogs and other Web contents by using words and phrases associated with Farrell’s eXtreme Bodyshaping Inc.

The lawsuit brings into question whether tags or keywords used to direct Internet traffic to a business’s Web content are its exclusive property.

Such disputes typically focus on domain names that contain a company name or other trademark. However, since the late 1990s, the lawsuits also have dealt with keywords used in the unique coding language used to design Web content and deliver it to viewers.

Many of those cases have been settled out of court, leaving something of a gray area about what constitutes trademark infringement on the Internet.

Farrell’s attorneys - Camille Urban, who heads the BrownWinick law firm’s intellectual property practice, and Michael Dee - argue that Kosama uses the words “Farrell’s,” Farrell’s extreme bodyshaping” and “extreme bodyshaping,” which are registered trademarks, as keywords that search engines use to direct online traffic.

Urban declined to comment.

The lawsuit notes that Farrell’s has been in common use since 1982, when owner Lance Farrell started offering martial arts classes.

Both Farrell’s and Kosama are growing as fitness centers and franchise operations.

The lawsuit points out that both companies offer similar services. Since opening in Clive earlier this year, Kosama has launched franchises in Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Michigan, Florida and Georgia.

Since opening nine years ago, Farrell’s has opened 30 locations and has 24 franchise agreements in six states.

The suit said Kosama uses the words Farrell’s and extreme bodyshaping on its websites, blogs and on videos uploaded to video-sharing websites such as YouTube.com.

People who use of those keywords in an Internet search engine can be led to Kosama’s web content rather than to that sponsored by Farrell’s, the lawsuit says.

Kosama is represented by Nate Malloy, who declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Jeremiah Terhark, owner and founder of Webspec Design LLC in Des Moines, said the use of keywords has not been as much of an issue for Web designers as has been the use of trademarked names in the domain names of websites and copyrighted images that frequently are included with templates for websites and other content.

The area of trademark infringement has “always been evolving, with the Internet being a focus” of business growth, Terhark said.

For its part, Farrell’s wants an injunction prohibiting Kosama and its representatives from using “Farrell’s,” “Farrell’s extreme bodyshaping,” “extreme bodyshaping” and “big winner.” It also asks that Kosama refrain from suggesting that its services are endorsed or sponsored by Farrell’s.