A Muslim dating and marriage app, Muzmatch, lost a legal battle on Wednesday against the owners of Tinder, one of the world’s most popular dating apps, after a British court ruled that the start-up had infringed on the multibillion-dollar company’s trademarks.
Match Group — a dating site conglomerate that owns Match.com, OKCupid, Hinge as well as Tinder — sued Muzmatch for infringing on its trademarked logo, the use of “match” in its name and for “unfairly benefiting” from the company’s reputation and investment in its brand.
The ruling, from the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court in London, could mean that Muzmatch, which says it has six million users around the world, must change its name and pay damages. Its founder and chief executive, Shahzad Younas, announced the news on Wednesday, saying Muzmatch would file an appeal. “We’re more focused than ever on our mission of transforming how Muslims meet and marry,” he said.
Match Group said it was “pleased that the court recognized what we have known to be true: that Muzmatch has unfairly benefited from Match Group’s reputation and investment in its brand and was riding Match Group’s coattails for undeserved gain in this highly competitive market.”
In its court documents, Match argued that the company’s dominance in the online dating market meant consumers would mistakenly assume Muzmatch was a “sub-brand” specifically targeted at Muslim users because of its use of “match” in its name.
Muzmatch said that “match” was simply an English word associated with matchmaking.
Mr. Younas, a former investment banker, started Muzmatch in 2011, aiming to help single Muslims find spouses online in ways that were compatible with Islamic values. A mobile app was introduced in 2015. The service is often listed among the leading dating apps for Muslims, and has attracted $9 million in financing.
Match Group, based in the United States, reported $3 billion in revenue last year and more than 16 million paying customers.
The dispute goes back to 2016, when Match objected to the start-up’s trademark registration for “Muzmatch” in Europe and the United States. Lawyers from Match also objected to the use of a heart and the font type in Muzmatch’s logo at the time, which were eventually removed.
As Muzmatch’s user base grew, Match made approaches to buy the company, eventually offering up to $35 million in 2019, Mr. Youngas said.
Convinced that the conglomerate could not help the app grow, Mr. Younas, Muzmatch’s sole director, turned the offer down. Later that year Match acquired Harmonica, a Muslim dating start up in Egypt.
Match did not confirm whether it was interested in buying Muzmatch or whether Muzmatch’s description of the process was accurate.
Mr. Younas said he was concerned the court ruling could have a chilling effect on smaller firms in the tech industry.
“This is just their tactic,” he said. “They’ll court you, they’ll get your data, they’ll try and buy you, and when that doesn’t work, they’ll either go after a competitor, or they’ll just kill you,” Mr. Younas said. “A million dollars for them in legal fees is small change. For us, it’s everything.”