The news broke this morning that Zynga is suing the makers of the Bang With Friends app for allegedly infringing its With Friends trademark.
There’s been plenty of media discussion about the case (I was particularly amused by Will Oremus’ suggestion that Zynga has become “the Lindsay Lohan of Silicon Valley startups“), but one thing that I haven’t seen mentioned is the fact that Zynga has tried to stop other companies from using “With Friends” names in the past. Specifically, its lawyers sent a letter earlier this year to a startup called Apartment 7 saying that it had to change the name of its CupidWithFriends dating website, and that it had until May 24 to comply.
Well, May 24 has come and gone, and today’s news reminded me to check in with Apartment 7 co-founder Jared Tame. CupidWithFriends is still up and running, and Tame told me:
We didn’t hear back from Zynga. We told them no and it’s been a little over 2 months now. We mentioned in our response that their non-response would signal a mutual agreement that we would not enter the gaming space and they would not further pursue legal action against us.
Back in May, I reached out to Zynga and Bang With Friends, because it seemed like any complaints that Zynga had with CupidWithFriends would apply to Bang With Friends too, but neither company commented.
Now it seems that they were already discussing the issue. Zynga’s lawsuit, which I’ve embedded below, doesn’t offer a specific timeline about communication between the two companies, but it does say that after “significant” efforts by Zynga to get in touch with the Bang With Friends’ then-anonymous founders, “Defendant engaged in discussions with Zynga about changing the name from ‘Bang With Friends’.” However, it says those discussions were either “a ploy” or that Bang With Friends has reconsidered.
The lawsuit also acknowledges that Bang With Friends isn’t the only company that Zynga has taken legal action against:
Zynga has diligently policed its rights in the WITH FRIENDS Family of Marks against such would-be infringers, including through the use of cease-and-desist letters, by instituting opposition proceedings with the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (“USPTO”) Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, by direct outreach to infringers, and through other means.
So why is Zynga suing one company but not the other? Well, a Zynga spokesperson declined to comment on Cupid With Friends, and Bang With Friends hasn’t responded to my request for comment either. One obvious difference is that Bang With Friends is much better-known — in fact, the lawsuit cites several examples where the press compared Bang With Friends to Zynga’s With Friends family of games. Plus, in contrast to Tame’s statement that he has no intention to go into gaming, Zynga’s suit suggests that Bang With Friends has more competitive plans:
In the weeks since [May], Defendant’s plan to expand its infringing activities aggressively was revealed by a person identified as a “Bang With Friends” investor. To Zynga’s great surprise, this investor stated that Defendant intends “to go from ‘Bang’ to ‘Hang’ to ‘Tennis’ to ‘Games’ to other activities.”
Business Insider noted that Zynga was granted the “With Friends” trademark in relation to “computer game software” and “entertainment services” in June of this year (it already had the trademark on specific titles like Words With Friends), so I suppose there could be more legal action in the works.
Zynga v Bang With Friends by TechCrunch