Airbnb versus Hairbnb: How trademark protects against unexpected threats

Taking a creative spin on an already established and renown brand may seem as a good strategy for devising a name for a startup company but it may backfire. This article summarises one of the contemporary cases in this area, revealing that Airbnb’s trademark protects the company against unexpected threats.

By

Igor Demcak

Airbnb represents a home sharing platform provider, the origins of which can be traced back to its foundation in 2008. This startup from San Francisco has grown rapidly and Airbnb has become a preferred provider of accommodation for over 800 million guests with the network spanning across 100,000 cities in the world.

Hairbnb is a Scottish provider of home boarding and dog training services, the history of which dates from 2017. The activities of Hairbnb came under the radar of Airbnb in 2019 when an infringement law suit was filed [1], suggesting that the mark Hairbnb is too similar to Airbnb and is therefore likely to cause confusion or association.

The interpretation of the intellectual property law is very clear in this case. Anyone who is adopting a mark that can be considered similar to an already existing mark, is taking a substantial risk. The actual resolution of the case is however mostly dependent on the extent of how seriously it is taken by the focal company. Thus, although “Top Bun / Top Gun” and “Airbnb / Hairbnb” display comparable levels of similarity, it was the action taken by Airbnb that endangered the ability of Hairbnb to continue the use of its brand [1].

One clear lesson for any startup organisation arising from this case is to think carefully about the selection of the mark and trademark registration from the very start. This approach will limit the risk of trademark infringement allegations and the need to rebrand in the future. At the same time, taken from the perspective of Airbnb, it is the trademark registration that provides comprehensive protection against, even less expected, threats.

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[1] Hannan, M. (2019), “Airbnb threatens Scots firm Hairbnb with legal action in trademark row”, The National, available from: https://www.thenational.scot/news/17694773.airbnb-threatens-scots-firm-hairbnb-legal-action-trademark-row/

[2] Kernan, L. (2019), “Scots dog sitting business Hairbnb threatened with legal action by AirBnB over cheeky name”, The Scottish Sun, available from: https://www.thescottishsun.co.uk/fabulous/4362222/dogsitting-hairbnb-legal-action-airbnb/

Igor Demcak

Igor Demcak

Trademark Attorney

Filed over 150 trademarks as a trademark attorney

UPJS Kosice

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