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United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia Alexandria Division

Government Employees Insurance Company  v. Google Inc.  

Civil Action No. 1:04cv507

December 15, 2004


                                   Transcript of bench trial before the honorable Leonie M. Brinkema United States District Judge




                        Computerized transcription of stenographic notes:




THE COURT:  Good morning, counsel.

MR. OSSOLA:  Good morning, Your Honor. 

MR. PAGE:  Good morning, Your Honor.

THE COURT:  Let's see, I think when we recessed, Mr. Page, you were in the midst of your cross examination of Dr. Ford.  Do we need to bring him back in?

 MR. PAGE:  Briefly, Your Honor.

 THE COURT:  All right.

 MR. PAGE:  I have a few additional questions.

 THE COURT:  All right, Dr. Ford, if you'd come back up to the witness stand?  You're still under affirmation from your testimony on Monday, sir.


Q.   Good morning, Dr. Ford.

A.   Good morning, Mr. Page.

Q.   I'm sorry to have to bring you back, but I just have a few more questions for you.  In your direct, you discussed briefly the coding tables that are at tab I of your report.  Could I ask you in a little more detail how you go about selecting the categories that you use for coding?

A.   In general, the coders from in this case Target Research Group review perhaps 10 percent of the responses as they come in and read them independently and assign, assign their responses to various categories.  At that point, I review what they've done.  I look at the categories that they've put together and, if necessary, suggest some changes.

Q.   Okay.  So the categories are a function of what the actual responses are.  You don't select them in advance; is that correct?

 A.   That's correct.

 Q.   Okay.  And if you'd look at page 5 of tab I of your report? This is Plaintiff's Exhibit 231.

 A.   Yes, I'm there.

 Q.   If you see near the bottom, there's a category 34, and that's labeled "It was a GEICO search/under search/results of search"?

 A.   Yes.

 Q.   Is that the code that you would use if someone indicated that their reason for giving a particular answer was that "GEICO" was the search term?

 A.   Yes.  That seems to be -- there may be other codes, too, for it, but that would be one code.

Q.   But that's what that code would indicate?

A.   Yes.

 Q.   And when you put your tables together, if, if there are no responses in a given code, do you simply leave that, that code out of the table?

A.   Or, or put it in as a zero.

Q.   Okay.  For example, if you could turn to your Revised Table 10, which is at tab 10?

A.   Yes.

Q.   These are the responses to Question 1b, which is the reasons why respondents would click on sponsored links --

A.   Yes.

Q.   -- if they wanted to purchase automobile insurance?

A.   Yes.

Q.   And are there any responses on this table that correspond with the code 35 that we just -- sorry -- 34 that we just saw?

A.   I would -- let me be more specific.  I would assume that code 34 would be collapsed into perhaps code -- the first response on Table 1b.

Q.   That says GEICO --

A.   In other words, sometimes there's -- if we look on page 5 here, there are -- and we look on -- and we look under the "GEICO (Net)," there are several responses that go in the, in the GEICO -- that are combined under the "GEICO (Net)."  Now, some of  those responses may be folded into the responses on Table 10 Revised in the first category.

Q.   So if I'm correct, you --

A.   And it could also be in the second one, too.

Q.   So you coded the answer that I searched for GEICO and the answer "it says GEICO" into a single category?

A.   It could be.  I don't know off the top of my head because of  the way the nets were brought.

Q.   Okay.  And in fact, in Table 10, the single-most prevalent answer is -- or the two most prevalent answers are "Says get quotes" and "Says save money," correct?

A.   Yes.

Q.   Okay.  Yesterday, you said that your Questions 2 and 3 were more traditional likelihood of confusion questions; is that correct?

A.   I did.

Q.   Okay.  In traditional confusion surveys, do you typically  present the junior and senior marks sitting next to each other when asking questions?

A.   No.

Q.   Okay.  But in this case, you really didn't have much choice, did you?

A.   That is correct.

Q.   So you end up doing what you call a traditional confusion survey with the allegedly infringing material and the senior mark sitting right next to each other, right?

A.   They -- there's no other way to do it in this case, and that's also why I thought Question 1 was more than, too.  In Question 1, obviously, the respondent has the ability to respond by selecting the place they would click first from the organic results or from the sponsored links, and so I think you have to have -- that's one of the reasons I used both of those questions.

Q.   I see.  So you feel it's less of a problem for Question 1 than for Questions 2 or 3?

A.   I don't necessarily feel it's a problem for Questions 2 and 4  3.  I think it was important to do that, and it's also important  to have a control to try to get at those kinds of issues.

Q.   But you would, of course, expect that you'd get higher affiliation answers when people are staring at the name than an unaided affiliation question; would you agree?

A.   I would think that in general, that's so, but given the characteristics of this situation, which is that they entered "GEICO" as a search term and they were asked for one of the sponsored links where they would expect to go if they clicked on that sponsored link, I don't see any practical way how to do that other than what was done.

Q.   I see.  Could I get a look at your survey questionnaire, which is at tab G, I believe?  Tab G.  I want to look at your Question 3a.

A.   Excuse me, 2a?

Q.   No, 3a is actually the one I have.

A.   That's it.

Q.   That's perfect. Let me see if I understand this correctly.  Question 3 was only asked of people who had not already answered "GEICO" to Question 1 or 2, correct?

A.   To Question 2 only.

Q.   Question 2.  So any respondent who answered "GEICO" to

Question 2, they were done.  They never got to Question 3?

A.   They were, they were asked 2b and 2c, but other than that, they were done.

Q.   Right.  So that the only people who were answering Question 3 were people who got what I'll call the right answer being asked about the sponsored links, in other words, gave an answer that wasn't "GEICO" but for the most part was the actual link that  those ads went to, correct?

A.   The only people who were asked Question 3 were people who had not given a "GEICO" response to Question 2, which is what it says in the directions to that question.

Q.   Okay.  So Question 3a was asked of people who, for example, had said "netquote," and you then asked them, "Do you think the company that sponsors this listing is associated or connected with any other company or companies?"  Correct?

A.   That's correct.

Q.   Aren't you just telling those respondents, "No, wrong answer. Try again"?

A.   Well, you can -- you have the opportunity to look at the results individually for those, those responses, and there is -- it seems to me those are traditional questions that we would get in a likelihood of confusion survey, generally followed by a third question that asked whether there's a need, permission kind of aspects. So in this case, I was asking two questions that are frequently asked in these types of studies, and the results are reported separately.  It can be aggregated separately so we can determine whether there is any large jump in responses for the people who were asked the second question and not the first.

Q.   But in fact, you've only asked this -- you've turned everybody who got the right answer and said, "Try again," and then you've added them in as confused to the people who said "GEICO" to the second, while at the same time, you haven't asked this question of people who said "GEICO," so you haven't given them an opportunity to say, "Well, yes, I think it may also be netquote." Correct?

A.   That's correct.

MR. PAGE:  Okay.  I have no further questions.

THE WITNESS:  But -- thank you.

THE COURT:  All right.  Mr. Ossola, any redirect?

MR. OSSOLA:  No, Your Honor.

THE COURT:  All right, thank you, Dr. Ford.  You may step down.

 THE WITNESS:  You're welcome.  Thank you.

 (Witness excused.)

THE COURT:  All right, Mr. Ossola, is there any other evidence GEICO wants to present in its case-in-chief?

MR. OSSOLA:  No, Your Honor, other than the evidence that's already been submitted on the papers beyond that which is presented in open court.

THE COURT:  That's fine.  And just for the record, because this case went in in a somewhat -- the plaintiff's case has gone in in a somewhat unusual fashion, for any appellate purposes if that were to be necessary, we need to clear up what exhibits are actually in evidence. In particular, Mr. Page, you referred to several of your exhibits during the course of the plaintiff's case.  I believe I have every one of those recorded, but we would just need to make sure that that's done, and you should check with Ms. Travers if there's any question about that.  All right?

MR. OSSOLA:  Yes, Your Honor.

THE COURT:  All right.  Mr. Page?

MR. PAGE:  Your Honor, at this time, Google would like to move for judgment as a matter of law in this case.

THE COURT:  All right, sir.

MR. PAGE:  At the opening of this case, I said that the Court would be able to dispose of this case before hearing testimony on damages.  That got a bit of a laugh, but I was quite serious.  Now that the Court has heard plaintiff's case, we believe you can rule in Google's favor as a matter of law. On the key issue in this case, whether the use of trademarks as keywords violates the Lanham Act, GEICO's own evidence proves Google's case.  To the extent users are confused at all, that confusion comes from either the use of GEICO's trademark in the text of the sponsored link or from the natural and nonactionable assumption that any site that offers to compare insurance rates will likely include GEICO. It's important to note this assumption is only wrong because GEICO as a business decision has chosen to make it wrong. That's their choice.  As you heard from their witnesses, it's an integral part of their business strategy to sell only direct to customers and not to allow other companies to quote rates that may  not be accurate. It's a perfectly legitimate strategy and, combined with a great marketing campaign, has resulted in a remarkable success story.  That's their choice, but Google cannot be liable for confusion that's a natural result of that business strategy.What GEICO's evidence shows is that the use of trademarks as keywords does not itself create confusion.  As they bear the burden of proof on this point, that's the end of the analysis. If the Court were to deny this motion, this afternoon or tomorrow you would hear from Google's survey expert, Dr. Jacoby, whose own survey clearly establishes the same point.  When respondents enter the word "GEICO" as a search term and are presented with sponsored links that offer car insurance quotes, some of them say yes when asked if they think they can get information about GEICO there, but they also say yes at a frequency that is actually slightly higher when asked the same question about Allstate, even though "Allstate" appears nowhere on the search term, the organic results, or on the sponsored links. So on the question of whether the use of trademarks as keywords violates the Lanham Act, the answer is clearly no. Turning to the question of GEICO's mark in the text of ads and whether that gives rise to confusion, we believe that the flaws in GEICO's survey, which is their only evidence on this point, mandate a finding as a matter of law in Google's favor, but the Court need not throw out that evidence in order to rule in our favor.  As GEICO concedes, such use is already banned by Google's trademark policy, and Google vigorously enforces that policy.

GEICO has told you that nonetheless, some ads occasionally slip through, although they have presented no evidence of how often that occurs, but as I noted in opening argument, the inability to achieve perfect enforcement of that policy does not give rise to contributory liability.  In order to prevail on that claim, GEICO would have to establish far more: that Google affirmatively encouraged or knowingly assisted in a violation of trademark law by the alleged infringers.

There's no such evidence before the Court because Google does not condone or encourage infringement.  Quite to the contrary, we were the first search engine to implement a trademark enforcement policy, both because it is the right thing to do and because it makes business sense.

Trademark owners are our own customers on the advertising side, just as the users are our customers on the search side.  Thus, we carefully balance the dual goals of protecting trademark rights on the one hand with providing our users with the most complete and relevant information possible on the other hand. We believe that our current trademark policy strikes exactly the correct balance, neither over- nor under-protecting trademark rights.  Therefore, we ask that the Court enter judgment as a matter of law in Google's favor.  Thank you.

THE COURT:  All right, thank you. Mr. Ossola?

MR. OSSOLA:  Your Honor, good morning.  Mr. Page starts out by describing the issue that he believes there's a failure of proof with respect to as a matter of law as whether the use of keywords -- whether the use of trademarks as keywords in and of itself gives rise to a likelihood of confusion and claims that GEICO has failed to establish that proposition, but I would submit to you that that is not the proposition that GEICO is advancing in this case.

The claim of infringement, the claim of likelihood of confusion is one that is based on the sponsored links that result from under Google's system the user's entry of the search term "GEICO," and it is the relationship between the search term and those sponsored listings that gives rise to the likelihood of confusion.

One cannot in our view view -- look at the question of the use of "GEICO" as a keyword by itself as presenting the real question to be decided based on the evidence presented in this case. And as we have attempted to make clear, it is the two categories of sponsored listings that at least thus far are generated by GEICO as a keyword that gives rise to the likelihood of confusion.  One of those categories is the bulk of the sponsored listings that the searches that we have put into evidence demonstrates, and that is those that include "GEICO" in the text, the title or heading of the sponsored listing.

As to that category of sponsored listings, as we said in our opening statement, it seems to me that there is a complete sufficiency of proof, particularly when there is no proof to the contrary that will be offered by Google to conclude that there is  a likelihood of confusion, and I say that for two reasons. One is simply by looking at the searches themselves that had -- that establish a connection between a search term and a sponsored listing.  Secondly, Dr. Ford's survey, if it proves nothing else, certainly establishes based on the sponsored listings that he tested, both that included the "GEICO" as a search term and the one that did not, that there is an overwhelming likelihood of confusion that is associated with sponsored listings that include the trademark in the text. That is something that's established by his survey.

It's established by the other evidence submitted, the searches themselves, and particularly given the evidence that came in with respect to GEICO's focal point of its advertising of its business on GEICO as a, a trademark that is used to prompt potential customers to search for a rate quote from GEICO, the fact that a GEICO rate quote cannot be found, the evidence shows, from any site other than GEICO's, and the fact that a consumer would be misled into believing that a third-party source that is offering a comparison of rate quotes that either refers to GEICO specifically or does not refer to GEICO specifically suggests to the consumer that they can find a rate quote from GEICO at those sites, and it's clear, I think, from the evidence that they cannot and that those ads are inherently misleading.

Now, Mr. Page refers to the fact that Google already -- in its policy already provides that sponsored listings that have the trademark in the text should not be displayed, and as we pointed out, that has always been the case under Google's policy. Its policy did not change with respect to that.

And I think the evidence is clear that that has happened.  It has continued to happen, and despite the policy, the reality is that those sponsored listings have been displayed despite the objection of GEICO, and in evidence are those objections, in evidence are the numerous instances in which sponsored listings containing the search term "GEICO" continued to appear.

So far from slipping through, it seems to me that the bulk of the search terms that are in evidence establish that those are the type of categories of listings, that is, with "GEICO" in the title, that have, in fact, occurred in the marketplace and, we believe, clearly give rise to a likelihood of confusion.

With respect to the question of whether Dr. Ford's survey establishes a likelihood of confusion as to those sponsored listings that do not have "GEICO" in the title, we submit that Dr. Ford's survey is sufficient to prove that proposition.  He did, in fact, test both sponsored listings that include and do not include "GEICO" in the text.  The result -- the respondents in the survey were asked independently to react to each of those five sponsored listings.

The evidence shows that the responses with respect to a source affiliation were not appreciably different among those respondents.  There was a slight dimunition in the level of confusion associated with the fifth sponsored link, but it's still in excess of 50 percent.

So we believe that the evidence clearly establishes that there is a likelihood of confusion based both upon the use of "GEICO" in the text, and in this case, given the fact that "GEICO" is a mark associated with rate quotes, that it is also sufficient to establish a likelihood of confusion with respect to those sponsored listings that do not contain "GEICO" in the text.

Thank you, Your Honor.

THE COURT:  All right.  Well, since this is a bench trial, I could be wrong, but I'm going to assume that this motion is raised under rule 52(c).  I think that's the right rule.

MR. PAGE:  That is correct, Your Honor.

THE COURT:  And what the Court is being called upon to do at this point in the trial is to evaluate the strength of the plaintiff's evidence to see whether or not the case should go forward on any or all of the issues in this case, and having carefully considered the plaintiff's case, the Court is going to grant in part and deny in part the defendant's motion.

As we all know, there are five essential elements to a Lanham Act claim.  First, the plaintiff must establish that it possesses a mark that is protectable, and of course, that's not an issue in this case.  "GEICO" clearly is.

The remaining elements require basically a focus on what the defendant does.  Question No. -- the second element is that the defendant uses the mark; three, that the defendant's use of the mark in commerce; four, that the defendant's use of the mark is in connection with the sale, offering for sale, distribution, or advertising of goods and services; and fifth and what has in my mind been the key issue in why I could not grant summary judgment initially in this case or grant the motion to dismiss that was previously filed was that the use of the mark is done in a manner that's likely to cause confusion.

Having heard the plaintiff's case, the Court is satisfied that the plaintiff has not established that the mere use of its trademark by Google as a search word or keyword or even using it in their AdWord program standing alone violates the Lanham Act because that activity in and of itself, there's no evidence that that activity standing alone causes confusion.

The Court also finds that there was insufficient evidence presented in the plaintiff's case to let this case go forward on the question of whether Google violated the Lanham Act after it barred -- or after it began to bar the use of the GEICO mark from either the titles or the text of the sponsored ads that appear as a result of use of the AdWord program.

And the reason I find insufficient evidence of that, as we sort of -- I sort of indicated during the testimony of Dr. Ford's, is that, frankly, Dr. Ford either wasn't asked or chose not to actually query that particular issue because the survey focused on either ads that had "GEICO" in the title -- I mean, the page that people were looking at had five sponsored ads, the first four of which had "GEICO" either in the title and/or in the text.  The fifth one did not, but it was on a page that had the four previous sponsored links.

The test -- the control in this case used Nike, but what I don't feel was presented to the Court that needed to be presented to the Court would have been ads of insurance that did not have "GEICO" in it, and I was not satisfied therefore that the plaintiff's evidence was sufficient.

However, as to the narrow issue of whether the plaintiff has presented sufficient evidence at this point to let the case continue on the issue of whether Google is liable for violating the Lanham Act for those sponsored ads using GEICO's name in either the title or the text that appear next to a -- and a GEICO organic listing as a result of the AdWord program, at this point, there has been enough evidence of confusion as a result of Dr. Ford's report to deny the motion and to allow the case to continue so the Court can consider the defendant's evidence as to whether or not this situation creates a likelihood of confusion in the marketplace and, if so, what damages might be appropriate.

Now, counsel, is my ruling clear, and any questions about what I have just done?

MR. OSSOLA:  Your Honor, I have just one.


MR. OSSOLA:  You made reference to the -- what you believed to be the insufficiency of evidence after Google began to bar the use of the trademark in the sponsored link.  I think that's what you said.  I just want to make clear that Google has always barred --

THE COURT:  And I should clarify that.  I realize that, but in this particular case, they -- I meant to confine that tothe facts of this case; that is, I didn't mean to suggest that Google did not have that policy in place, but the reality was that we do have evidence that there were -- "GEICO" was being used in titles and in text until Google was advised to stop that, and then following its own policy, it implemented that policy.

MR. OSSOLA:  I understand.

THE COURT:  All right.

MR. OSSOLA:  But the insufficiency evidence on that point is that with respect to those sponsored listings that do not have "GEICO" in the text or heading of the ad, as to those -- that category of sponsored listings, the Court is finding that there is not sufficient evidence of likelihood of confusion.

THE COURT:  In this case.

MR. OSSOLA:  In this case.

THE COURT:  Correct.

MR. OSSOLA:  Thank you.

THE COURT:  All right? Mr. Page, was there anything you needed clarified?

MR. PAGE:  No, I think that covers it, Your Honor.

THE COURT:  All right.  Now, I think as we all know, there's serious legal issues that are involved in this decision that I've just rendered, in particular, the status of how trademarks as used in keywords, etc., and I think I would like time to write a more detailed opinion on these legal issues, and so depending upon how you-all want to proceed, as you know, I've also been encouraging you to see if you can resolve the case, and I've given you now some very clear parameters as to how the case would continue.

Unless there's any objection, what I propose is that we terminate the trial at this point, I don't mean end it, but stop right now what we're doing to give the Court a brief amount of time, which given the holiday season might be two or three weeks, although we're going to try to do it sooner than that, to get a written opinion out on this ruling, consistent with this ruling, and to allow you-all the opportunity to see whether or not there can be a resolution of what is left in the case. Does that meet with all of your approval?

MR. PAGE:  Yes, Your Honor, that would be fine.

MR. OSSOLA:  Yes, Your Honor.

THE COURT:  All right.  Now, I'm not going to set another date at this point for when we would start up Round 2 if that becomes necessary.  We'll get the opinion out as quickly as possible, and then you can get back to me as to how you want to proceed.

In the meantime, since this courtroom is not going to be used again until January 3, and I'm hoping we have it resolved by then, you can if you want leave your exhibits up here.  If the case ultimately has been resolved, then there's no need for any of the exhibits to stay at the courthouse, and we'll ask you to come and get them.

If the case goes on to the, what I would call the second phase, then obviously, we'll need to get the appellate record cleaned up in terms of just what exhibits are in or out.  All right?


THE COURT:  Anything further we need to address at this point?

MR. OSSOLA:  Your Honor, just the second phase, if we get there, would be -- would include damages as well; is that correct?

 THE COURT:  Yes.  It would be the defendant's opportunity to rebut liability, and obviously, if I were to find that as a matter of law there was no issue left on liability and find in the defendant's favor, then we wouldn't have to have a damages phase, but if I find liability, then there would be a damages phase.  All right?

MR. OSSOLA:  What's been established to date then is that the category of sponsored listings that have "GEICO" in the title and text are -- have been found to be confusing and misleading under the Lanham Act?

THE COURT:  No.  I have found that you've presented enough evidence at this point to avoid a motion for judgment as a matter of law.  In other words, there certainly is a prima facie case that you've established that they are confusing based on Dr. Ford's survey.

Now, I haven't heard the rebuttal evidence, so I'm not making a specific finding on that.  I'm at this point weighing the quality of the evidence, the amount of evidence.  You've presented enough to let the case go forward.

MR. OSSOLA:  Thank you, Your Honor.

THE COURT:  All right?

MR. PAGE:  Thank you, Your Honor.

THE COURT:  All right?  And, counsel, that one piece of paper that was on each of your chairs was a joke.  It was not serious.  But we happened to see it and thought it was appropriate.

All right, I wish you-all a happy holiday, and we'll get back to you as quickly as possible. We'll recess court for the day.

MR. OSSOLA:  Thank you, Your Honor.

MR. PAGE:  Thank you, Your Honor.

  (Recess from 10:31 a.m., until 11:09 a.m.)

THE COURT:  All right, for the record, Mr. Ossola has brought to the Court's attention the following matter:  My understanding, Mr. Ossola, is that your view of the defendant's evidence is that Google will not be able to offer any evidence to counter GEICO's evidence that those sponsored sites that contain "GEICO" either in their title or in their text that have been at issue in this case are confusing.  Is that correct?

MR. OSSOLA:  That's correct, Your Honor.

THE COURT:  And it's my understanding that, what, the expert -- is it Dr. Jacoby, Mr. Page?  Whose report would have --

MR. PAGE:  That's correct.  It would be Dr. Jacoby's report.  Mr. Ossola is correct.  Our survey addressed Google's current policy, so the sponsored links that we tested do not contain the word "GEICO."  We were testing the keyword issue.

THE COURT:  All right.

MR. PAGE:  So Dr. Jacoby's survey says nothing either way as to whether a link with GEICO is confusing.

THE COURT:  All right.  Then the Court should have clarified its earlier -- well, it couldn't clarify -- should have said in its earlier ruling and says now in response to your motion that the evidence before this Court does establish that those sponsored sites that contain "GEICO" either in the title or in the text are likely to confuse for purposes of the Lanham Act  requirements, and therefore, to the extent that the defendant's motion was based on that issue, that will also be denied.

And that reduces the issues that would have to go forward were there -- if there is a second phase to this trial. The sole issues that would remain -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- are, No. 1, whether or not Google is liable for any Lanham Act violation based upon those sponsored sites, and 2, if Google were liable, then what damages would be appropriate.

Now, is that a correct phrasing from your standpoints as to what would be left in this case?

MR. PAGE:  That is correct, Your Honor.  The issue that will remain is, is since the Court has found a likelihood of confusion for ads that have "GEICO" in them, the question is whether Google is contributorily liable or whether only the advertiser would be liable.

THE COURT:  Well, actually, because the advertisers are not in this case, the only question before us would be whether or not Google is liable.

MR. PAGE:  That's correct, Your Honor.

THE COURT:  Right.  Mr. Ossola?

MR. OSSOLA:  I believe that's right.  Under contributory liability or any other theory that may be asserted by GEICO, that remains to be seen.

THE COURT:  Correct.

MR. OSSOLA:  Phase 2.

THE COURT:  So there has been -- just so we're clear for the record, there has been no finding of liability -- there's been no finding that Google is liable at this point.  What we have found, however, is that this particular group of sponsored sites does violate the Lanham Act.

MR. OSSOLA:  Yes, Your Honor.

THE COURT:  All right?

MR. PAGE:  That's correct.

THE COURT:  Do you think we need to clarify anything further for the record?

MR. OSSOLA:  No, Your Honor, thank you.

THE COURT:  All right.  Thank you very much for bringing that to our attention.  We'll recess court once again.

 (Recess at 11:12 a.m.)



I certify that the foregoing is a correct transcript of the record of proceedings in the above-entitled matter.

 Anneliese J. Thomson



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