An Amazon Web Services employee claims the company had never heard of CafeX Communications and its competing Chime service when it decided to christen its new set of conferencing and collaboration tools Amazon Chime.
Soon after AWS announced the new Amazon Chime service, New York-based CafeX slapped Amazon with a federal trademark lawsuit. In court documents filed Wednesday, AWS Product Manager Jennie Tietema, who was involved in naming Amazon Chime, disputes claims made by CafeX that Amazon knew about its Chime product and deliberately ripped off the name.
“The first time I recall ever hearing of CafeX was when the litigation was filed and I was asked if I had heard of it,” she wrote in a declaration opposing CafeX’s lawsuit. “I do not recall having ever heard of CafeX or its products before. CafeX was never mentioned in any naming meeting. The selection of ‘Amazon Chime’ as the frontrunner for the name had nothing to do with CafeX.”
CafeX is asking for an injunction against AWS from using the name as soon as possible, preferably by March 27, when both companies will tout their respective Chime products at the 2017 Enterprise Connect show. CafeX alleges that Amazon Chime is also confusing customers and partners, and that will only get worse as Amazon’s new service will soon be offered by Vonage and Level 3 Communications.
Tietema claims that it would take at least two months, require the full attention of dozens of staff members and cost the company upwards of $400,000 to change the name from Amazon Chime. A name change would require AWS to rewrite websites, documentation, training materials, and advertising; reshoot promotional videos; reprogram the display within the product; change the domain name and maintain URLs for both the current domain name — chime.aws — and the new domain.
Tietema has been with AWS since 2015, when it stealthily acquired Biba Systems, a San Francisco-based company that makes chat, video and audio conferencing tools for businesses. She worked on marketing and operations for Biba and eventually became a product manager for the Chime team.
CafeX launched its Chime service a year ago. Using the application, businesses can collaborate via document sharing, chat, video and voice calls directly from their chosen browser. The company won best in show for the technology at the Enterprise Connect 2016 conference in March, nearly a year before Amazon launched its own Chime online conferencing technology.
In its lawsuit, CafeX alleges Amazon was aware of its Chime product when it launched Amazon Chime last month. The company asserts that an AWS product manager visited CafeX’s booth promoting Chime at last year’s Enterprise Connect conference, where the CafeX Chime product was heavily promoted throughout the venue.
Tietema contradicted these allegations, saying in court documents that the person who attended the conference did not work on the Amazon Chime team and was never involved in the naming process.
Tietema said Amazon has been planning a conferencing tool for some time. The team began the naming process with “a sticky-note brainstorming session” in October 2015. At the time, Biba and Amazon WorkTalk were the frontrunners for the name.
The company continued the naming process into 2016, and in June, Tietema and a colleague offered hundreds of names for the service, and Chime was not one of them. Shortly after that, Tietema said, “a team member who had not been involved in naming discussions sent a message to the team chatroom that his wife had suggested ‘Amazon Chime.’ Several other team members quickly indicated that they liked this name.”
After Chime became the favorite, Tietema claims that the company ran a trademark check to see if the name was already taken. At the time of its suit, CafeX said its trademark application for CafeX Chime had been “published and formally allowed and is expected to issue shortly.” CafeX has since indicated in court filings that owns trademarks for the name Chime. CafeX claims that simply adding Amazon in front of the name does not set the service apart enough to avoid confusion, and trademark infringement.
Here is Tietema’s declaration as well as the original lawsuit: