It's a Match: 2 Billion-Dollar Dating Apps are Embroiled in a Billion-Dollar Legal War

The multi-hundred-million dollar assault that Match.com waged upon Bumble by way of a strongly-worded lawsuit late last month was only the beginning. On the heels of a releasing a feminist-centric response to the Match Group's ugly lawsuit, Bumble has filed a $400 million-plus countersuit against its rival, alleging that Match has engaged in a pattern of fraud and trade secret misappropriation aimed at regaining some of the growing market share that Bumble has managed to take away from the 5-year old dating app. 

Bumble's statement, which ran as a full page ad in the New York Times and the Dallas Morning News, as well as on Instagram, was more a rallying cry – a fight song of sorts – than a response to a multi-hundred-million dollar intellectual property lawsuit accusing the female-founded and run dating app of copying Match.com's Tinder platform.

For those reading between the lines, the statement – in which Bumble admonishes Match's "scare tactics," "endless games," and "bullying" – was also something of a dead giveaway that the parties have a history ... and it is ugly. That history includes, of course, the lawsuit that Match.com filed against Bumble just a week prior, in which Match alleged that one of Tinder’s co-founders, Whitney Wolfe Herd, left the company, taking with her a few key employees and an arsenal of know-how in order to start a rival app.

Bumble, which responded with a $400 million suit of its own in state court in Dallas, Texas last week, alleges that, in fact, it was Match that “obtained sensitive competitive information through deceptive means and has wrongfully disparaged its competitor in the investment market." 

As Bumble sets out in its complaint, “After [its] parent company rejected repeated lowball offers by Match to invest in the Bumble platform, Match embarked upon a tortious and fraudulent campaign against Bumble. Match asked for – and received subject to a confidentiality obligation – Bumble’s most deeply confidential and sensitive business strategy plans and performance metrics using the false assurances that it needed them so that it could increase its prior offer to invest in Bumble.”

At a later date, when Match’s Chief Financial Officer requested “additional sensitive and proprietary information from [Bumble] … falsely justifying its request for Bumble’s most sensitive information on the grounds that this information was necessary if Match was to increase its offer,” Bumble provided such information.

Instead of making another offer, as promised, Match would go on, according to Bumble, to copy its “female user-first” model, and make false – or “misleading (at best)” – assertions regarding the status of its intellectual property rights in its lawsuit in order to “intimidate other investors so as to quash competition for an investment in Bumble, paving the way for Match to coerce acceptance of a lowball offer.”

But there is more to this battle than claims of Bumble’s claims of fraud, trade secret misappropriation, Tortious Interference with Prospective Business Relations, unfair competition, promissory estoppel, and business and commercial disparagement against Match, and its claim for approximately $400 million in damages and … “preliminary and permanent injunction enjoining Match, its affiliates, employees, officers, directors, shareholders, agents, any other person in active concert with it, from further tortious interference with the prospective business relations of Bumble and is affiliates, or from using the confidential information of Bumble.”

Bumble's suit is, in a sense, a war for women, and it is one that comes from the very top of the Bumble hierarchy, where Tinder co-founder and Bumble founder Whitney Wolfe Herd sits.

As you may recall, Ms. Herd was prompted to branch out on her own after she was allegedly subjected to widespread sexual harassment and discrimination, stripped of her co-founder title, and pushed out of the company. This is what Herd asserted in the discrimination, sexual harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and defamation, etc. lawsuit that she filed in California state court in June 2014 against Tinder and Match Group. 

Imagery of text messages was included in Herd’s complaint as  evidence of the "horrendously sexist, racist, and otherwise inappropriate comments” that Tinder co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Sean Rad and co-founder Justin Mateen made to Wolfe Herd, before ultimately firing her. Herd alleged that in addition to harassment via texts, she was referred to as a "whore" and "gold digger" by Mateen in front of Rad on more than one occasion.

While Wolfe alleged that neither Tinder nor Match Group took reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment (despite allegedly receiving multiple sexual harassment related complaints about at least one of Tinder's male executive), the company denied any wrongdoing. Nonetheless, the claims made by Herd spoke loudly of the ugly reality for many women working in tech.

Unsurprisingly, the suit was quickly settled for a sum that was reported to be approximately $1 million. While the parties have been barred from speaking out about the case as part of the settlement agreement, it is difficult not to sense that Herd – who at 28 has built a billion dollar business – is tired of the “aggressive corporate culture” that is often employed to scare and discredit women. 

Match, on the other hand, is not backing down. “The lawsuit [filed by Bumble] is a petulant and meritless response to our patent, trademark and trade secret claims,” Match said in a statement. “We obviously think their lawsuit has no substance and look forward to proving that in court.”

 * The case is Bumble Trading, Inc., and Bumble Holding, Ltd., v. Match Group, LLC, DC-18-04140.