It's every startup's nightmare — being taken to court by a much wealthier, much larger entity.
But that's where Muzmatch, a UK dating app for Muslims, has spent the last two days. The startup is being sued in the London High Court by Match.com — the American dating titan behind Tinder, Hinge and OkCupid — for a trademark infringement, arguing that Muzmatch copied the brand and look of Match and its associated apps.
The two-day hearing saw scrutiny of company emails, press interviews, internal reports and earlier versions of the Muzmatch website, which first went live in 2014.
The hearing also saw two Match.com executives give evidence alongside Muzmatch's founder, Shahzad Younas.
Younas spent a total of three hours on the stand, answering questions about Muzmatch's audience, Muslim dating culture, as well as the app's branding origins and its features.
He appeared confident and on several occasions told the plaintiff's barrister that he disagreed with his presentation of events.
"I just do not agree with you on that, I'm sorry," Younas concluded after one back and forth.
Match.com's central argument is that Muzmatch uses "match" in its SEO and meta tags to boost traffic, piggybacking off the group name.
But Younas argued that references to "match" in his company's name referred exclusively to "match-making" rather than the rival group name, which is widely known as Match.com.
He also recalled being a 26-year-old banker when he founded the company, realising that mainstream dating services did not cater to halal rules on courting. He argued that Match.com would not have been a suitable home for most of Muzmatch's users, and therefore isn't attractive competition.
The defence also focused on unpicking the claim that consumers could be confused between the two brands.
Muzmatch's barrister flagged that Match.com had shared just three emails showing potential consumer confusion out of millions of customer service enquiries. She also argued that there was no trace of any confused pundits on social media.
The court also heard that Match.com had tried to buy the UK Muslim dating app four times before 2019 — all of which were declined.
Now that the brief hearing is over, Judge Nicholas Caddick could take several months to deliberate on his decision.
Younas wrote on Twitter last week that the court battle was effectively a lose-lose. Even if Muzmatch wins, it will have spent £1m on legal fees, which are not reimbursed in intellectual property cases. If it loses, it'll be forced to change its name and pay material damages.
The company confirmed to Sifted that it was paying for its legal fees out of its £5.8m Series A raise, which saw Y Combinator and Luxor Capital join as investors.
"It is demoralising," Younas told Business Insider last week. "Litigation is expensive, and it is really painful to have to divert and set aside precious startup funds and energy away from your product to lawyers to fight these matters."
Match Group has a market cap of around $37bn.
David vs Goliath
Muzmatch is one of the few successful UK dating stories to date.
It now counts 5m members and 150,000 have found their marriage match on the site.
The dating space is not an easy one to crack, as Hinge founder Justin McLeod explained to Sifted last year. Hinge eventually was forced to sell to Match.com, McLeod explained, after getting the cold shoulder from investors.
Muzmatch is also one of the few UK startups to take on a giant corporation in court.
The company had previously avoided going to court after getting served papers last March by Match.com's subsidiary in Texas. Muzmatch settled before it reached court, removing the contested swipe function from its app and without admitting liability.