Google+, the internet giant’s latest foray into the realm of social media, is stirring up trouble with more than just the likes of Facebook and Twitter. ‘Huddle’, a group messaging app, is just one of the intuitive-but-not-quite-groundbreaking social networking tools on Google+. However, Huddle is also a collaboration and content management offering from London-based Ninian Solutions Ltd, which provide cloud computing services to 60% of the British Government.
Google’s seemingly arrogant trampling of Huddle’s IP rights has caused outrage. However, this tale is more complicated than your usual tech start up v evil corporate overlord.
Ninian Solutions claim to have used the name Huddle since at least 2007, which may provide some common law IP protection. They filed their UK trademark application in December 2006, it was registered in September 2007 and it is likely there are other trademarks registered in other jurisdictions. However, Ninian Solutions only applied to register Huddle as a US trademark in September 2010, potentially after the Google+ development of the Huddle app was underway.
A crucial question, however, is whether Google’s use of the term, in relation to a group messaging app – a comparatively small part of Google+ – overlaps with Ninian Solutions’ registered use of the term. Arguably they are both in the social media space. But are Ninian Solutions up for the fight? The reports are that they are consulting with lawyers. The Huddle brand name is clearly fundamental to the business as the company stumped up hefty sums for the Huddle.com domain name last year; but is it worth a clash with a titan?
This ought to serve as a cautionary tale and exemplifies the need for tech companies to have global IP protection. The next twist to the tale: Ninian Solutions’ US trademark application was published for opposition on 14 June 2011. Odds are Google have already formally filed their objection.