• Time Warner Wins 411 "Fat Fingers" Dispute
  • February 2, 2006
  • Law Firm: Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • Time Warner Cable has won a court order blocking a California company from using names similar to Time Warner, such as "Time Warned," in what Time Warner says is an attempt to lure customers into subscribing to satellite TV.

    A San Diego federal court granted a temporary restraining order to the cable provider on January 11, 2006, after Time Warner claimed that LA Activations, a satellite TV retailer, was using confusingly similar names in telephone listings of toll-free 800 numbers. The judge ordered LA Activations to cease any deceptive practices that involved using names similar to Time Warner until a January 23, 2006, hearing on a request for a permanent injunction.

    Time Warner's suit alleged that LA Activations, a retailer for DirecTV satellite TV services, had registered fictitious business names, such as "Time Warn Cabling and Satellite," "Time Warn," "Time Warne" and "Time Warned" as a means of confusing customers and steering them into satellite TV service rather than cable. The suit alleged that LA Activations obtained toll-free telephone listings under some of the names to deceive Time Warner customers into using its service.

    The names they chose precede Time Warner's name in the alphabet, explained a Time Warner spokesman. That way, the directory assistance operators, who are always crunched for time, would give callers the first name that came up. As a result, consumers who called directory assistance and asked for Time Warner were often given the number for LA Activations. A sales representative would then try to convince the caller to get DirecTV instead of Time Warner, the company alleged.

    Significance: Other courts have found that "fat finger" tactics, in which companies take advantage of telephone dialing errors to poach business from rivals, violate state anti-fraud laws. This dispute centers on a variation of that tactic, in which a company has allegedly tried to take advantage of errors by directory assistance operators to steer business its way.