Shared office giant WeWork is suing Beijing-based rival UrWork over its “confusingly similar name” as the Chinese company prepares to launch a new centre in WeWork’s home base of New York.
WeWork, the world’s largest co-working brand, filed the suit in a federal court last Tuesday and said on Friday that it plans to file a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop UrWork from using its English name in the US. UrWork, the $1.3 billion co-working startup founded by former Vanke executive Mao Daqing, rejects the trademark infringement claims, and says it will defend its intellectual property.
The deepening trademark dispute comes amid an intensifying battle for the global co-working market, with WeWork raising billions of dollars to ramp up its presence in Asia Pacific, while UrWork is poised to take on the $20 billion American startup by rolling out its own shared office platform in the US.
WeWork Escalates Trademark Battle with Chinese Rival
WeWork submitted a letter on Friday to Judge William H Pauley of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, announcing its intention to file a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop its Beijing-based rival from from using the UrWork name in the US.
“WeWork simply cannot risk the harm to our brand while this lawsuit proceeds,” a company spokesperson said. “WeWork has invested substantial time and money building a superior brand, while UrWork currently has no physical presence and no brand equity here.”
The legal letter claims that WeWork welcomes fair competition, but that UrWork’s “use of the confusingly-similar name URWORK for their coworking services is not fair; to the contrary, because the URWORK name simply replaces the two-letter pronoun ‘WE’ in the well-known WEWORK name with ‘UR,’ a two-letter phonetic version of the pronoun ‘your,’ it is likely to cause confusion and therefore constitutes trademark infringement.”
The letter also argues that UrWork has “copied elements from WeWork’s logo, mobile phone app icons, and phrases,” and that its founder and CEO “admitted that the URWORK name is a play on the WEWORK trademark and that the UR element is intended to signify the pronoun “your.”
The action by WeWork opens a new front in a legal spat that began in late July, when the US unicorn filed a claim with Britain’s High Court of Justice’s Chancery Division, saying UrWork was “passing off” or misrepresenting its services as being those of WeWork.
URWork Hits Back at Trademark Infringement Claims
In a statement last Wednesday, URWork said it will defend its brand name, which it has been deploying for over two years. “Central to the trade mark is the ‘UR’, while ‘work’ is a common English word, ubiquitously seen in many commercial contexts,” according to the company.
“No institutions, enterprises or individuals hold proprietary right to the usage of the word, let alone regarding it as their own intellectual property,” the Chinese startup contended. The statement added that, “There is no legal proof, or common sense for any claims from WeWork that URwork infringes upon its trademark.”
UrWork’s Chinese name, 优客工场 (pronounced You Ke Gong Chang), translates as “excellent customer factory.” Mao argues that he does not view UrWork as directly competing with WeWork in the US, as the company’s target clientele are Chinese startups expanding abroad and foreign startups wanting to enter China, according to a report in Financial Times.
UrWork Ramps Up Its International Presence
UrWork, which has built a network of 88 co-working centres in more than 22 cities in mainland China, Hong Kong and Singapore, says it aims to bring another 160 locations to 32 cities worldwide over the next three years, covering 7 million square feet of space. As part of its global expansion drive, the company has partnered with New York-based Serendipity Labs to set up a 34,000 square foot (3,159 square metre) centre in the Manhattan skyscraper 28 Liberty St, slated to open in October.
The company backed by mainland VC heavyweights Sequoia Capital China and Zhen Fund is also promoting an upcoming centre in Los Angeles, which UrWork previously said is slated to launch in the fourth quarter of the year. The new centre will occupy a 34,848 square foot (3,237 square metre) space on Gale Avenue in City of Industry, a Los Angeles suburb, according to UrWork’s corporate website.
UrWork is also eyeing future locations in San Francisco, London, Paris and Berlin, after announcing its first overseas facility in Singapore this past June. Last month the shared office provider raised RMB 200 million ($30 million) from a state-owned developer based in the city of Kunming as part of its ongoing fundraising drive.
WeWork Targets Asian Growth
WeWork says that UrWork’s planned expansion in the US will directly compete with its own service offerings. Founded in 2010, WeWork has a network of 219 office locations in 53 cities globally, including 42 locations in New York City, 15 in Los Angeles, and 14 in the San Francisco Bay Area, according to its corporate website.
The competition with UrWork is also heating up in the Chinese company’s home turf. Since late July, WeWork has raised $4.4 billion from Japanese tech giant SoftBank and its Vision Fund to fuel its international expansion in Japan, China, South Korea and southeast Asia.
The US brand has 12 locations in Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, and South Korea, after opening its first Asian centre in Shanghai last August. WeWork leveraged its new funding to set up a China vehicle that will roll out centres in five additional mainland cities within less than a year, and the company plans to launch its first address in Tokyo in early 2018.