The Bizarre Legal Fight Between Match and Bumble May Be Almost Over

Seven months after it sued Match Group, seeking $400 million in damages for misappropriation of trade secrets and other alleged wrongs, dating-app startup Bumble quietly asked the court to forget the whole matter. Lawyers for the company, founded by early Tinder employee Whitney Wolfe Herd, filed a motion to dismiss it on Oct. 18.

Not so fast, said the powerful owner of Tinder, OkCupid and Match.com, in a series of new filings made late Thursday evening.  While Match’s lawyers embraced Bumble’s motion to dismiss, they also entered an amended counterclaim demanding declaratory judgments that would put to rest Bumble’s allegations of wrongdoing and foreclose the possibility of a similar lawsuit somewhere down the line.

“As reflected by its wholesale copying of the Tinder app, Bumble is a marketing company, not a technology one,” Match’s law firm, Caldwell Cassady Curry, wrote in its notice of non-opposition to the dismissal motion. “Bumble’s marketing strategy has now extended to a misuse of the courts…. If Bumble wishes to continue to disparage Match in the media with these false and misleading allegations, it should prove them with evidence in the courts.” 

A spokesperson for Bumble, which is based in Austin, Texas, couldn’t be reached immediately for comment. 

The whole weird saga began March 16, when Match sued Bumble in federal court claiming violation of its intellectual property, including a patent on the “swipe functionality” members of Tinder (and Bumble) use to indicate interest in a potential romantic partner.

Within days, Bumble responded with its own lawsuit, accusing Match of using the pretext of acquisition talks to elicit trade secrets and then putting them to competitive use after those talks fizzled. With that eye-popping $400 million (potential) price tag attached, Bumble’s suit generated a lot of headlines but little forward progress–mostly because Bumble didn’t bother to serve Match with a copy of it, according to Thursday’s filings.

As detailed in Match’s new filings Thursday, Bumble’s lawsuit languished in the Dallas state court where it was filed for six months, until the presiding judge, Jim Jordan, set a hearing to consider dismissing it. Only then did Bumble get around to serving Match’s lawyers. By then, Bumble had announced its intention to conduct an initial public offering. In an interview with CNBC, Wolfe Herd pointedly predicted her company’s IPO “would not be favorable to Match’s stock price.” 

In its petitions for declaratory judgments, Match says Bumble’s lawsuit was doomed to be a nonstarter for a couple reasons. For one thing, the acquisition talks in question, between Match and the British internet conglomerate Worldwide Vision, which owns 75 percent of Bumble, was governed by a non-disclosure agreement–and that NDA stipulated any disputes arising from the negotiations would be adjudicated in England or Wales, not Texas.

The NDA also provided for special handling of any competitive information Bumble regarded as particularly sensitive. Any such information was supposed to have been designated “highly confidential”–but Worldwide Vision failed to indicate that any of the information it provided to Match rose to that standard, according to the counterclaim.

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Paul Rosen