The competitive world of superannuation ratings houses may spill over into the courts with a dispute between SuperRatings and Heron Partners over some internet advertising on Yahoo and NineMSN.

Jeff Bresnahan, SuperRatings chief executive, confirmed yesterday that his firm had “instigated proceedings” against Heron. He said: “We are protecting the goodwill and integrity of SuperRatings. We will take whatever action is needed to protect the name.” He declined to elaborate on the matter. Chris Butler, chief executive of Heron, declined to comment. It is understood the matter relates to the paid positioning of internet links to Heron on the two popular sites. When users type in ‘super ratings’ in the search section of Yahoo, the first link to come up under that heading is a paid link with Heron’s URL. SuperRatings’ own, unpaid, link is then the first of the subsequent free results of the search. For NineMSN, the first result also has the heading ‘super ratings’ but the words ‘Heron Advisor’ appear alongside. Sites which provide global searches such as these allow advertisers to link their sites under a word or group of words of their choosing, usually on a first-come-first-served basis. But while Heron also advertises on Google and Ask Jeeves, when users type in ‘super ratings’ those search results come up under the ‘Heron’ heading. If the matter goes to court, it will be an interesting test for this form of internet advertising, which is growing rapidly as a preferred mechanism over traditional banner advertising on certain sites. However, any action would probably involve the common law issue of ‘passing off’, rather than copyright or trade mark breeches, where a plaintiff is required to prove a defendant has passed itself off under the guise of the plaintiff’s brand or name. Heron Partners markets a superannuation fund comparison service to financial planners, whereas SuperRatings concentrates its marketing to the funds themselves but also sells information to the general public through its site.

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