Co-working industry giant WeWork, one of the five most valuable start-ups worldwide, filed suit against Chinese competitor UrWork on Tuesday, accusing the Beijing-based firm of trademark infringement and unfair competition after it announced the imminent opening of a shared workspace in Manhattan.
In a complaint filed with the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, WeWork’s grievance hinged on the semantics of the UrWork name, which it argues bears such close resemblance to its own that customers will be deceived into thinking the two companies are affiliated.
At issue is a partnership announced in July between UrWork and Serendipity Labs, a co-work service provider also named in the complaint that is active “mostly in smaller markets in the United States.” The two companies plan to open a co-branded space in November in Manhattan’s financial district, already home to five of WeWork’s 38 New York City locations.
WeWork’s complaint notes that UrWorld founder Ma Daqing has openly conceded the point that his company’s English name is “a play on the WeWork trademark.” In China, it argues, UrWork’s spaces are branded with the company’s Chinese name — “优客工场” — which does not evoke WeWork either symbolically or phonetically. Not only is the UrWork name appropriated from the WeWork trademark, according to the complaint, so too is the company’s logo, design aesthetic, mobile app icon design scheme and social media branding.
“While there are certainly many other companies in New York City offering services common to coworking… none have been so unabashed as to glom WeWork’s name or marks,” the complaint stated.
WeWork also cast doubt on UrWork’s “aggressive campaign to register its name as a trademark… in every class of goods and service (including for goods and services that it likely has no intention of offering).”
“It is improbable,” the complaint argues, “that UrWork has a bona fide intent to use the UR Logo in connection with goods such as ashtrays, vodka, steam engines, adhesive tape for medical purposes, asbestos paper, and animal foodstuffs.”
Improbable though it may be, the possibility of UrWork outfitting its shared workspaces with UR vodka and UR asbestos paper cannot be ruled out entirely as the company strives to distinguish itself in a fierce market. Even WeWork would be hard pressed to label UrWork unoriginal were they to introduce UR branded animal foodstuffs to the coworking landscape.
By Henry Knight
[Images via WeWork / UrWork]
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