Patent law gives inventors and designers to the right to exclusive use of their creations. These rights are similar to those granted by trademark registration, but the process of applying for a patent is usually much more complicated. In the event of infringement, patent and trademark owners have the right to sue for damages and to enjoin further unauthorized uses. A pair of lawsuits filed earlier this year by two competing tech companies demonstrate both the complexity of patent law and the types of business disputes that can arise in connection with alleged patent infringement. California businesses are undoubtedly familiar with many of the patent issues raised in Match Group, LLC v. Bumble Trading Inc. (“Match”), No. 6:18-cv-00080, complaint (W.D. Tex., Mar. 16, 2018), as well as the business torts alleged by Bumble Trading Inc. v. Match Group, LLC (“Bumble”), No. DC-18-04140, orig. pet. (Tex. Dist., Dallas Cty., Mar. 28, 2018).
Federal law allows patent protection for “new and useful” inventions, or “any new and useful improvement thereof.” 35 U.S.C. § 101. Patents that cover “useful” inventions are commonly known as “utility patents.” A “design patent” covers “new, original and ornamental design[s]” that are associated with a product without affecting its function. Id. at § 171(a). Both types of patents are protected from infringement, defined to include “mak[ing], us[ing], offer[ing] to sell, or sell[ing]” patented material without permission. Id. at § 271.
A trademark is a name, phrase, logo, or other design “by which the goods of the applicant may be distinguished from the goods of others.” 15 U.S.C. § 1052. More general designs and shapes that are associated with particular products are known as “trade dress.” Trademark law protects trade dress to the extent that it serves to identify a product. Federal law allows trademark owners to sue for various acts constituting infringement, including unauthorized use of copies or reproductions of a trademark in ways that are likely to cause confusion or dilution. Id. at §§ 1114(a), 1125(a).
The plaintiff in Match owns multiple online dating or matchmaking services, including the mobile app Tinder—known for its “swipe left/right” function. The defendant, which was founded by a former executive of the plaintiff, owns a competing app known as Bumble. The plaintiff alleges that the defendant’s app is nearly identical to the Tinder app in both function and design. It is therefore asserting causes of action for both utility and design patent infringement, along with trademark infringement and dilution and trade dress dilution. The plaintiff filed another lawsuit shortly afterwards against a Chinese company that owns a dating app called Tantan, which the plaintiff alleges is also nearly identical to Tinder. Match Group, LLC v. Tantan Ltd., No. 6:18-cv-00081, complaint (W.D. Tex., Mar. 19, 2018).
The defendant in Match (plaintiff in Bumble) filed a separate lawsuit against the plaintiff in state court, asserting causes of action for various torts, including tortious interference with prospective business relations, fraud, and business and commercial disparagement. The petition alleges that Match’s lawsuit continues an ongoing feud between the two companies involving failed buyout attempts, alleged acquisition of trade secrets under false pretenses, and other acts.
James G. Schwartz is an intellectual property attorney who represents Bay Area businesses and business owners, advocating for their rights in both transactional matters and litigation. To schedule an initial confidential consultation with a member of our experienced and knowledgeable team, please contact us today at (925) 463-1073 or online.
More Blog Posts:
California Businesses Address Ownership of Intellectual Property and the Right-to-Repair Movement, Pleasanton Business & Commercial Law Blog, March 15, 2018
Self-Driving Car Technology at Center of California Trade Secret Lawsuit, Pleasanton Business & Commercial Law Blog, June 7, 2017
Federal International Trade Agency Hears Patent Dispute Between Fitness Tracker Manufacturers, Pleasanton Business & Commercial Law Blog, March 23, 2017