All Is Fair in Love and War — Except When Swiping Right

Two of the Goliaths of dating apps are having a legal tussle surrounding the intellectual property of one and other. The entities? That would be Bumble and Match.com’s Tinder.

The Birth of Bumble

In late 2014, Whitney Wolfe Herd and two other Tinder colleagues launched Bumble. She was also one of the co-founders of Tinder, which she departed following a sexual discrimination and harassment suit that was settled with Match paying her $1 million.

What makes Bumble different, according to the company? It “flipped gender dynamics on its head, requiring women to initiate conversations with potential matches.”

The Fashion Law blog tells us that following Bumble’s creation, the complaint from Tinder was coming. It wasn’t a matter of if, only of when.

The Lawsuit(s)

In its suit, Match alleges the Bumble had built a nearly identical dating app. This app was launched exactly one year from the date that the three founders had departed Tinder. What is Match seeking? Fashion Law describes the case:

Match is seeking “full profits” from Bumble in connection with its alleged design patent infringement, which could set Bumble back significantly, given that its revenue was expected to surpass $100 million last year. The company was valued at more than $1 billion in late 2017. However, potentially more likely than the parties sparring in court, according to Axios, the suit might be a way for Match to restart the stalled negotiations in which the parties were engaged after Match offered to buy Bumble for $450 million last summer. Bumble “swiped left” on that offer.

Bumble answered Tinder with a four-part Instagram where the CEO, tongue-in-cheek, answered all the allegations made against Bumble, including “swiping left.”

Then in late March, Bumble doubled-down and filed a suit of its own against Match and Tinder for $400 million. The claim: Match has interfered in Bumble’s ability to conduct commerce. The acquisition discussions are duly noted, with Bumble requesting Match provide the names of all individuals to whom Bumble’s confidential information has been shared. Bumble wishes to discover how widely the confidential information was shared within Match.

It is obvious from the tone of the Bumble suit that there is no love lost between the two entities, and that the negotiations for Tinder to acquire Bumble did not conclude amiably. Bumble describes the offer from Match as “low-ball offers.”

Bumble claims that Tinder stole the “Bumble Boost” feature and called it “Tinder Gold.” The new feature came about after Bumble had made confidential disclosures during acquisition discussions, which Bumble claims ended “abruptly.”

The Bumble’s invective verbiage continues:

Match has behaved in an underhanded and devious way that transcends sharp negotiation practices and rises to the level of an actionable tort. Unwilling to pay fair value for Bumble, Match tried to poison Bumble in the investment market by filing bogus intellectual property claims to wrongfully disparage the Bumble platform. Knowing its lawsuit would immediately kill its negotiations with Bumble, Match deviously asked for, and received, Bumble’s most sensitive competitive information—without disclosing that it was already planning to sue Bumble. Then, to head off the adverse publicity that its scare tactics would undoubtedly spawn, Match made a series of false statements assuring the public that its intent in filing the lawsuit was completely above board and an honorable attempt to protect its intellectual property rights

What’s Next?

This is not the first, nor will it be the last, instance of intellectual property theft or infringement claims between entities whose roots are so closely intertwined. When founders of a company leave to create a second company and then compete directly against their former employer, unless the former is invested in the latter, the new company can expect to be deeply scrutinized. It wasn’t too long ago we were watching the Uber-Waymo intellectual property theft legal battle.

No company should have to compete against its own technologies acquired through subterfuge.

  • Did Match simply wait until a trigger event occurred—revenue $100 million, for example—and then reach out to discuss investment/acquisition?
  • Did Match enter into investment discussions to acquire the technology and market plans of Bumble for the sole purpose of determining if Bumble had stolen its intellectual property?
  • Did Bumble take the technology blueprint that the founders had a hand in creating at Tinder and lay it down on the drawing board at Bumble?
  • Did Match steal the technology of Bumble to tweak its own platform and offer new uniquely Bumble features to Tinder?

Answers to these questions will be educational to all companies that may find themselves in similar situations in the future. The results will be one of the following:

With Bumble having approximately 30 million and Tinder approximately 46 million registered users, and both having an estimated value of over $1 billion each, this legal wrestling match might rival the WWE and be popcorn-worthy.

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May 29, 2018

Christopher Burgess

Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is a writer, speaker and commentator on security issues. He is a former Senior Security Advisor to Cisco and served 30+ years within the CIA which awarded him the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal upon his retirement. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century”. He also founded the non-profit: Senior Online Safety.

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