Wapple vs. Womple: What’s really in a name?

A few weeks ago, we wrote a story about Womple, a new startup out of Bellingham that’s developing easy ways to make mobile Web sites for restaurants, dentists and other small businesses. A bunch of folks read the story, including the CEO at a 10-year-old mobile app development shop out of the U.K. called Wapple.

The CEO, Rich Holdsworth, concluded that Womple was just too darned close to his company’s name, Wapple. He contacted Womple CEO Madison Miner, a computer science grad from Western Washington University, and asked that the name be changed.

“I wasn’t sure if it was a prank phone call,” recalled Miner, who quickly learned this was no joke.

Miner said that the Wapple executive was pleasant about the request, and he was pleased that no lawyers were involved.

Madison Miner

But Miner was also faced with a tough startup dilemma. Drop his company’s newly-established brand name or fight a bigger company in the courts?

“I thought our name was pretty unique. I thought we’d be safe,” said Miner, who had conducted trademark searches for similar names and found no businesses in the mobile app development arena that were close to Womple. What Miner had failed to do was conduct a phonetic search, one which would have possibly turned up names that sounded like Womple.

Wapple is no ordinary company when it comes to this kind of stuff. Trademark geeks may recall that Wapple defeated the biggest company in the world, Apple, in a five-year long trademark battle earlier this year. At the time of the court win, Wapple COO Anne Thomas called it a “victory of truth over tactics.”

Armed with that information and after receiving some advice from his lawyers, Miner made the tough decision to ditch the Womple name.

“I am glad it happened now, rather than later,” said Miner, who decided to change the company’s name to Womp Mobile.

But the name change — which just took place over the past few days — didn’t come without some costs. Miner said he spent countless hours researching new names, and the headaches of legal and trademark discussions ate up precious weeks at the young startup. “It has put the brakes on us, and hopefully won’t kill us,”  he said.

But Miner is finally happy to be moving on. “I try not to get too bummed about anything. It’s just a bump in the road,” he says. “Hopefully, we can come out of it better and stronger.” He does tell us, however, that he’ll be doing a deeper trademark investigation for the new name, even though he’s not sure that would have solved the initial problem.

This story, however, may have an unusual ending.

In the course of discussing the name change, Miner and some of the Wapple executives got to chatting about how their businesses might be able to help one another. Earlier this week, Miner had a different discussion with Wapple.

This one dealt with how the two companies — one from Bellingham and one from Worcestershire — might be able to work together. It’s too early to say whether a concrete partnership will come out of those talks, but Miner said he was pleased to deal with folks who were not heavy-handed and litigious right off the bat.

“They were pretty reasonable about it,” he said.

The tech industry sure does work in strange ways some times, doesn’t it?

  • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

    It’s certainly a nice change to have people actually TALK rather than sending cease and desist letters like legal cruise missiles back and forth. So I give both parties here credit for maturity and human decency (both sadly lacking in business these days).

    But (there’s always a but), I have to say, I don’t think much of either name. I can’t tell what either company does and phonetically they both sound like either euphemisms or kids words (I think it’s the “w”, “p” and “l” together….sounds like a mixture of “slap” “swamp” and “waffle”). Not trying to be mean: just being honest.

  • Jason Gerard Clauss

    I don’t get why companies insist on picking such juvenile sounding names to begin with.

  • AJ

    I, for one, am appalled at Wapple’s incredible arrogance. They choose a name ridiculously similar to “Apple” and then expect Womple to roll over because of a infinitesimal similarity in phonetics? I can’t believe Miner didn’t at least insist that he be compensated for all costs associated with changing his company’s name. The gall.