NEW YORK (MainStreet) – If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Groupon seems to have had all the flattery it can take.
Groupon, a popular coupon site that capitalizes on the buying power of crowds, has taken off in recent years and effectively changed the way consumers shop for deals. It also snatched up some 40 million users along the way. But in the process Groupon has spawned copycats who are trying to spin off the site’s unique model of group buying.
Now, Groupon appears to be fighting back.
Last week Groupon announced a lawsuit it filed against Scoopon, an Australia-based deal site that copies its format pretty closely by offering daily deals that are activated only if a certain amount of users commit to buying the product or service within a given amount of time.
Interestingly, though, what caused the lawsuit was not Scoopon’s copying of Groupon’s formula, but rather the fact that Scoopon decided to buy the domain Groupon.com.au, the Australian version of Groupon’s existing U.S. domain. Scoopon initially agreed to sell the site to Groupon, but then backed out at the last minute, presumably wanting more in exchange for the address. So Groupon responded by suing the company, “claiming that their trademark was filed in bad faith.”
Until last year, Groupon, which officially launched in late 2008, did not take legal action against copycat sites like these, choosing instead to either invest in them to expand Groupon’s brand or simply to ignore them.
“We don’t spend a lot of time worrying about people whose primary competency is their ability to carbon copy something,” said Andrew Mason, the CEO and founder of Groupon, in an interview with MainStreet in early 2010. He then went on to compare one of these copycat sites to nothing more than an imitation Chinese iPod.
Nonetheless, Groupon’s attitude towards these imitators seems to have changed in the past year. In February 2010, Groupon sued Groupocity, another deal site, claiming trademark infringement. In November, it sued MobGob, claiming the deal site violated Groupon’s patent on group buying. And now there’s the lawsuit against Scoopon.
If Groupon is indeed waking up to the idea of suing copycats rather than letting them be, there are a few dozen sites out there that should be on their guard going forward, including LivingSocial, which has made a name for itself, but may still be too similar to the Groupon model to claim that it offers unique services.
We’ve rounded up a few of the most egregious Groupon offenders out there, but the list is surely incomplete as the number of sites grows constantly.