Tinder Accuses Bumble Of 'Exploiting' COVID-19 In IP Fight

By Bill Donahue
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Law360 (April 3, 2020, 7:01 PM EDT) -- Lawyers for the dating app Tinder are accusing attorneys for rival Bumble of "exploiting the country's COVID-19 crisis" to delay an already-contentious intellectual property lawsuit.

In a letter filed in Texas federal court Friday, attorneys for Tinder owner Match Group LLC claimed their adversaries were using the logistical problems posed by the coronavirus pandemic — namely, remote depositions — as a back door to postpone a July trial.

"COVID-19 presents a number of uncharted issues to be addressed," Match's lawyers wrote. "And Match has always been willing to work with defendants in good faith to address those issues while working to prepare this case to go to trial on schedule.

"But ... defendants are not seeking to solve COVID-19 issues," the letter said. "They are seeking to gain from them."

According to Match's letter, Bumble was using gripes about video depositions to seek a full halt to discovery for 30 days — a request Match said would inevitably have forced a substantial postponement of the trial.

And Match said Bumble was notably not seeking such a delay in a parallel case filed at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which aims to invalidate Match's patents.

"Defendants' hypocrisy reflects an unfortunate opportunism: Remote depositions are sufficient when defendants want a matter to proceed, inadequate when they do not," Match's attorneys wrote.

"Defendants are exploiting the country's COVID-19 crisis to attempt to allow their preferred venue, the [USPTO] proceedings, to leap ahead of this one," they wrote.

Later in the day Friday, a federal judge weighed in on the scheduling dispute, agreeing to postpone the July trial by two weeks but ordering discovery to continue on an updated schedule. Following that order, an attorney for Bumble strongly disputed Match's accusations.

"Any accusation that my clients are 'exploiting the country's COVID-19 crisis' is false," Joseph Drayton, a partner at Cooley LLP, told Law360. "Given the various shelter-at-home orders across our nation, litigants and courts are making necessary adjustments as required in light of our country's COVID-19 crisis."

Even before Friday's accusations of pandemic gamesmanship, the lawsuit between Match and Bumble had been particularly heated.

Match sued in March 2018, accusing Bumble of infringing both patents and trademarks by launching a "copycat" dating app with similar layout and "swiping" features to Tinder.

Bumble, founded by an ex-Tinder executive who once sued the company for discrimination, quickly countersued. The case accused Match of retaliating with "bogus intellectual property claims" after a failed bid to buy the smaller rival. Match later called that case "nothing more than a publicity stunt."

Bumble later dropped the parallel lawsuit, but has also brought cases at the USPTO's Patent Trial and Appeal Board aimed at invalidating Match's patents. Those cases are all pending.

The patents-in-suit are U.S. Patent Nos. 9,733,811; 9,959,023; and 10,203,854.

Match is represented by Bradley W. Caldwell, John F. Summers and Warren J. McCarty III of Caldwell Cassady & Curry PC and John P. Palmer of Naman Howell Smith & Lee PLLC.

Bumble and its parent company, Badoo Ltd., are represented by Joseph M. Drayton, Michael G. Rhodes, Matthew Caplan and Rose S. Whelan of Cooley LLP and Deron R. Dacus of The Dacus Firm PC.

The case is Match Group LLC v. Bumble Trading Inc. et al., case number 6:18-cv-00080, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.

--Editing by Stephen Berg.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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