“Uber is not suuber”: American online taxi company wants to ban the name of a Zurich startup
The American online taxi company Uber wants to ban the name of a Zurich startup. This defends itself.
The companies couldn’t be more different. Here the internet giant from San Francisco, there the startup from Zurich. Here, the travel agent who fights in various legal disputes about not having to pay social security contributions for his drivers, as the marketplace for cleaning employees, who automatically takes over the billing of social contributions for them.
Although the two companies are worlds apart, Uber thinks the startup Suuber is getting too close. So close that the US company is now taking action against the cleaning agent Suuber. At the end of August, Florian Bodenmann received a registered letter from the Federal Institute for Intellectual Property (IGE). The content came as a shock to the startup founder: Uber contests the name of his company. A large Zurich law firm that exercises the rights of the American company in Switzerland has filed an objection to the IPI against the trademark registration of Suuber. “They want us to change the name because of the risk of confusion,” says Bodenmann.
According to Uber, this is given by the fact that the products are too similar. There are indeed certain overlaps: According to the registration, Suuber offers its services in some of the same product classes in which Uber is active. For example «computer software for recruitment». Above all, however, criticize the Uber representatives, there is a similarity of characters between the two names: “Between” UBER “and” SUUBER “there is the greatest similarity.” The startup’s brand includes the name of Uber integral. “She only puts the two letters SU in front of it,” write the Uber lawyers in the appeal against the trademark registration that CH Media has.
The company names sound the same phonetically
At the level of the typeface, a very great similarity can therefore be assumed. The similarity at the phonetic level is even more pronounced. Uber lawyers argue that the two company names are hard to tell apart when pronounced. If someone says “Whoever orders Uber”, Uber sounds like Suuber. Because of the risk of confusion, the “Suuber” brand should therefore be banned. Especially since she is much younger. Uber has only been registered as a trademark in Switzerland since 2013.
For Bodenmann, Uber’s approach is a “pure intimidation tactic”. “Our company name is not confused with Uber,” he says. He registered the trademark with the IPI in September 2019, and was registered in May 2020, drawing the attention of Uber. The name comes from the German word “clean”. “Suuber is the Swiss German word,” says Bodenmann. He never thought of Uber when he came up with a name, he emphasizes. The two companies are also active in very different areas. “The name is memorable and it fits our product,” explains Bodenmann.
Cleaning staff determine hourly wages themselves
Suuber arranges cleaning staff for private individuals. The company, founded in 2018, takes on the processing of social security contributions and insurance for the cleaning staff and their customers. “To put it simply, we are a marketplace for cleaning,” explains Bodenmann. The cleaning staff and the customers must register. Then cleaning staff who are close to the customer receive a message and the parties agree on an hourly wage. On average, this is 25 francs net. Suuber then calculates the full hourly wage including all required insurance and deductions and takes care of the billing. With a net hourly wage of CHF 25, this amounts to CHF 32.40. His company is still focused on Zurich, but it is to be rolled out across Switzerland, says Bodenmann. Today Suuber has 6 employees and 200 registered cleaning staff.
For Bodenmann there is absolutely no risk of confusion with Uber. “It would never occur to consumers that our company’s services are in any way related to those of Uber, and vice versa”. The only basis for the trademark dispute is the entry in the register. It is clear to him: “Uber is not Suuber.” In his statement, he therefore requested the IPI to reject the objection and to definitely enter the name Suuber.
Trademark dispute comes at a bad time
The fuss about the business name comes at an inopportune time for Bodenmann. “We are still a startup and have to raise more capital for growth, so a name dispute and the threat of renaming will definitely not help.
In 2018, Uber also tried to ban the name of Ubermedical, a company based in western Switzerland. The company active in the health sector is called differently today, “but for strategic reasons and not because of Uber,” says company owner Marc Vanuytrecht. He still owns the naming rights and is looking for a solution with the American Internet company.
The verdict in the trademark dispute between Uber and Suuber has not yet been reached. The IPI is expected to make a decision in the coming year.