Last Saturday morning, while most people were fighting their alarms, we woke up to a rude shock that our Facebook page had been taken down in response to a complaint by a US competitor, Houzz Inc.
Houzify (www.houzify.com) is a mobile home interiors platform which connects Indian homeowners to inspirational homes and interior designers from across the country. On 16th December 2015, we received a Cease & Desist notice from Houzz, Inc. claiming that our trademark applications for Houzify and Housify impinged on the trademark protections which Houzz enjoys. Houzz demanded that we hand over the domains, re-brand our name, cancel our trademark applications or face severe consequences.
Our legal team immediately engaged with Houzz’s legal representative in India and replied to their Cease and Desist notice by rebutting their claims and establishing our legitimate use of the Houzify brand. Houzify has trademark applications for “Houzify” and “Housify” from early 2015 that are pending before the Indian Trademarks Registry. Houzz too has a similar trademark application pending. The two trademarks are structurally, phonetically and visually dissimilar. Notably, the Indian Trademarks Registry has awarded Houzz no protection yet.
Houzify and Housify are brand names which we coined independently of the existence of Houzz. It made sense to us as a company, helping consumers design and decorate their houses, to use ‘house’ or ‘home’ as a way to create an association with our product and services. With their attack on the brands Houzify and Housify, Houzz is attempting to claim exclusive use and supremacy over the generic term “house”.
We respect what Houzz has achieved in the United States. India, however, is not the United States. We have a highly disorganised home interiors market which exists almost entirely offline. On the ground and in the field, across cities in India, it is Houzify which has won the love of home creators and interior designers alike. In the last year, Houzify has deployed an army of photographers and home decor experts to document, curate and organise this industry. We have been working tirelessly to build a strong community of users and professionals who trusted our brand. By solving the complex discovery challenges posed in India, we have played an active role in simplifying the experience of decorating homes for Indians.
Houzz, on the other hand, has no business presence in India. Houzz has no India specific site, their domain houzz.in simply redirects to the parent US domain. Login to Houzz’s app and they won’t direct you to services based in India. All things considered, India has been a non-entity for Houzz. Until now. Shifting economics, a growing middle-class and growth in disposable income, all mean that India is an increasingly attractive market for this Silicon Valley corporation. In this attempt to enter the world’s third-largest economy, Houzz chose to take the approach of bullying the existing competition out of the way.
Instead of continuing to engage in the dialogue they initiated, Houzz opted for an extra-legal route for instant gratification of their demands. They filed a trademark infringement claim with Facebook, avoided the niceties of due legal process and had Houzify’s Facebook page taken down.
We are strong believers of the Internet as a neutral, open and equal platform for all. Houzz’s actions attack that belief at its core on the back of the assumption that they will be able to use their $2.3 bn valuation to claim exclusive rights over the word ‘house’. As entrepreneurs who have grown up with the open Internet as a permanent part of life, we expected a higher level of maturity from our competitor.
While we are disappointed by Houzz’s aggressive actions, this incident does not dampen our resolve. We remain committed to our vision of enabling 100 million homeowners and design enthusiasts across India beautify their homes.