What’s in a name? If you’re a property management tech company in competition with real estate giant Zillow, quite a lot.
Cincinnati, Ohio-based London Computer Systems has filed a lawsuit against Zillow alleging its use of the term “Rental Manager” has resulted in trademark infringement, unfair competition and unjust enrichment, among other claims.
According to the Oct. 1 complaint, LCS has owned the registered trademark “Rent Manager” since September 2008 and has used the mark since January 1988 for the computer software the company provides to assist landlords with the management and renting of real estate properties.
Attorneys for LCS said the company has invested “substantial amounts of time and millions of dollars” in the promotion and use of the trademark and asserted that the public has come to recognize and associate the Rent Manager mark with LCS’s products and services.
In January 2016, Zillow launched the Zillow Rental Manager, which allows landlords and property managers to manage their rentals listings across Zillow Group’s websites, including Zillow, Trulia and Hotpads.
Zillow added video walkthroughs to the tool in November 2016 and added several new features this past July, including giving renters the ability to apply for multiple apartments through one application that includes a credit report, eviction history and a background check and the ability to pay their rent online after they move in.
The complaint alleges that Zillow’s use of the nearly identical mark “Rental Manager” for identical or nearly identical goods and services to the plaintiff’s is likely to confuse consumers and is causing “irreparable injury to LCS, its reputation, and goodwill.”
“Zillow’s use of the infringing mark has been without the consent of LCS, is likely to cause confusion and mistake in the minds of the purchasing public, and in particular, tends to and does falsely create the impression that goods and services provided by Defendant, including the Rental Manager software, apps, and services, are authorized, sponsored, or approved by LCS when, in fact, they are not,” attorneys for LCS say in the complaint.
In an emailed statement, a Zillow spokesperson said, “We are aware of the lawsuit recently filed. While we won’t discuss pending litigation, we believe the claims are without merit and intend to vigorously defend ourselves against the lawsuit.”
The Zillow spokesperson did note that trademark cases depend on whether there is a reasonable expectation of consumer confusion and said Zillow always calls its product Zillow Rental Manager, thereby indicating the product is provided by Zillow and not another company.
According to the complaint, LCS sent Zillow a letter on or about August 15, 2018 asking Zillow to stop its alleged infringement of LCS’s trademark, including its use of “Rental Manager.” Zillow has not stopped using “Rental Manager,” which LCS says shows Zillow’s conduct is “deliberate, malicious, intentional, willful and committed with the intent to cause confusion” and “deceive the public.”
The complaint alleges Zillow has violated state and federal laws against trademark infringement, unfair competition, unfair or deceptive business practices and unjust enrichment.
It asks the federal court for injunctive relief to prevent Zillow’s further use of “Rental Manager,” an accounting to determine Zillow’s revenue and profits from its use of the “Rental Manager” mark, forfeit of such revenue and profits to LCS, reimbursement of attorneys’ fees and court costs and punitive damages.
“The infringement by Defendant has deprived LCS of sales and/or royalties, which it otherwise would have made and resulted in the unjust enrichment of Defendant at the expense and to the detriment of LCS, among other damage,” the complaint said.
“Defendant’s actions have resulted in improper profits, revenues, and other financial gains to Defendant for which LCS, in equity and good conscience, is rightfully entitled to reimbursement.”