How do I know this?
Several months ago our fledgling social benefit startup Nature Bay LLC started getting harassed by the retail giant. They claim the names “naturebay” and “ebay” are so similar that you, the consumer, will likely be confused.
For the past 4 years our tiny team has been pouring itself into developing naturebay.com. Most of us work other jobs to survive, since we aren’t making much yet. Our inspiration comes from knowing the platform we’re building has the potential to help a lot of people.
The original inspiration came after I lost my father to cancer. I wanted to start eating clean, organic, local. I wanted to support businesses that actually cared about the environment, their consumers health, and their local communities- You know, things that will lead to a brighter future. What I found was depending on where you are, this isn’t easy.
That’s why the goal of naturebay.com is to increase access to eco-friendly, healthy, and community oriented products and businesses. By supporting those local, green, conscientious entrepreneurs in our communities, and the people who are trying to live more sustainably, we can accelerate positive changes that are happening. What’s so exciting to us is that our local driven model can be used in the developing world to help solve a lot of huge problems.
When we heard ebay was trying to block us from trademarking our own name we were in shock.
How could we stand up to them? As a middle school teacher in a low income area I am constantly telling my students to stand up to bullies. So when people who care about me ask, “why fight such a big company, why not just change your name?” my instant reaction is to cringe. Even though the odds might not be in my favor, those kids are going to see me practice what I preach. They deserve that.
We also decided to make a stand because our situation is symptomatic of a much bigger problem that needs attention. Multinational corporations that put profits ahead of communities, health, and the environment are getting more powerful every year. It’s been causing a lot of damage, and this needs to change fast. Otherwise the awesome green startups that are popping up around the country- who actually care about their communities- are going to get choked out.
Turns out, ebay isn’t the only huge corporation with teams of lawyers who go to inordinate extremes in trademark court. Facebook, owner of trademarks “face” and “book,” routinely threatens online startups with the words “face” or “book” in their name. Claiming such dominance over such general words goes far beyond the intent of trademark law. Yet, how can a tiny startup have a chance against one with unlimited resources?
Last year, trademark bully “Monster Energy Drink” was defeated by a tiny company with the help of a pro bono law team from Suffolk University, so we know there is hope. The problem is, we have yet to find that kind of hook up.
While the cold machinery of ebay’s legal team is poised to destroy us, I’m wondering what their founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam would say? From everything I can tell, their non-profits, Omidyar Network, and Ulupono Initiative would almost definitely support us if they knew about us. At Omidyar Network they “invest in entrepreneurs who share …commitment to advancing social good at the pace and scale the world needs today.” They believe “people are inherently capable, but they often lack opportunity…if we invest in people, through opportunity they will create positive returns… for the world at large.” Ulupono which aims to double local food production in Hawaii was started because of Mr. and Mrs. Omidyar’s belief that “everyone can make a difference”
Pierre! Pam! -Hey! That’s us! We’re a social benefit with a lot of potential to help the world, and we share your vision, we just lack resources! We seriously doubt you’re aware of our situation, but we could really use your help right now- if not to team up and invest in us- at least to call the ebay lawyers off.
For everyone else out there, if you want to help we are looking for volunteers, backers, users, and supporters of all kinds. We have power in numbers, so please help us spread the word!