GroupMe face trademark challenge from messaging rival Groupie

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GroupMe has been one of the darlings of the fast-growing group messaging app market, getting $10.6 million from Khosla Ventures and lots of press for its apps, which just got an update to version 3.0 today. But while it’s managed to quickly become one of the leaders in this field, it now faces a trademark dispute from a fellow New York startup called Groupie, which is opposing GroupMe’s trademark application on the grounds that the names are too similar.

Groupie was founded in 2008, received its trademark in May of 2009, and has formally opposed GroupMe’s trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. It is now awaiting word from GroupMe, which has until Aug. 15 to decide how it will proceed. If GroupMe challenges Groupie’s opposition, it will begin a process of discovery that will ultimately lead to a ruling unless the two sides settle.

Groupie co-founder Jordan Adler said the company is not looking for a cash settlement though it is not ruling out any options. He said the three-man startup was forced to act because there was increasing confusion about the two companies.

“We feel that they’re too similar, especially when you talk about it audibly,” Adler said. “GroupMe, Groupie. Given that we’re in the same space and on the same platforms, it’s bit too much for us.”

GroupMe responded with a statement: “They (Groupie) are opposed to our federal trademark application, but we do not believe we have violated their trademark rights in any way. We have every intention to pursue our trademark application and to continue to use the GroupMe name.”

Groupie is an iOS and web app that lets people create groups, both public and private and allows people to message back and forth and meet each other. It has about 60,000 users so far. GroupMe, which launched last year after winning TechCrunch  Disrupt’s hackathon, is on iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7, BlackBerry and the web and is more focused on private group messaging.

Adler said up until recently, Google would list results for GroupMe when people searched for “Groupie iPhone.” The company was founded by Adler and fellow NYU student Leo Efstathiou while the two were business students there. They are a bootstrapped team and have not turned a profit from their free app.

These types of trademarks disputes happen frequently in the tech world, and there are plenty of similar-sounding startups. In this case, GroupMe is doing a lot better than Groupie and most of that success has likely not come by people mistaking GroupMe for Groupie.

But stepping back, it shows that this field has gotten quite competitive and startups need any edge to get ahead. GroupMe may just be a victim of that. They’ve done a great job iterating their apps and the latest 3.0 release, which includes a new questions function and international support, is a sign of the fast progress they’ve made. Groupie’s Adler said he’s not targeting other group messaging apps. But it’s unlikely they would be opposing GroupMe’s trademark if it hadn’t had as much success as it has experienced.

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