Friday, 17th October, 2014

Life in the fast lane

A new taxi-booking app with a catchy name is helping Kiwis get around more easily. But before ZOOMY even got into first gear, protecting its branding was vital.

Calling a taxi can be a pretty hit-and-miss exercise. You phone, you wait, you end up running late and missing your meeting/flight/the arrival of your first born…

Last year, Neil Macdonald and James Fisk changed all that when they launched a free smartphone app called ZOOMY. It's an online taxi-booking service that currently operates in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, with plans to expand to other centres. Designed to make catching a cab fast, safe and easy, ZOOMY uses GPS to show passengers where the closest taxi is and tell the driver they need a ride. You can order, track and pay for your taxi journey via the ZOOMY app, and even get a picture of your driver and the vehicle.

'It's probably the safest way to catch at taxi in New Zealand,' says co-developer James Fisk. 'All drivers have to belong to a registered taxi company that's licensed to use ZOOMY, and we have a rating system so passengers can report driver behaviour.'

It's not only convenient for passengers; cab drivers also benefit. Rather than sitting around waiting for customers or clocking up dead miles collecting out-of-the-way fares, they can get more work and find passengers nearby via ZOOMY, using the app to tracks their rides, kilometres and earnings.

A great brand needs protection

It's a great brand and one that needed protecting, says ZOOMY shareholder and chairman, Jeremy Ullrich. In May 2013, he approached trade mark partner Damon Butler at intellectual property specialists AJ Park - a firm he's worked with on numerous occasions in the past.

'Jeremy came to us looking for advice about searching to ensure the ZOOMY brand was available for the business to use and register in New Zealand as a taxi-booking app,' explains Butler.

AJ Park formulated a strategy that involved carrying out availability searches and protecting the trade mark locally while also advising on the most cost-effective way to claim the mark offshore using the new Madrid Protocol registrations/applications.

The work AJ Park has done to protect the ZOOMY brand has given the company the security of knowing that an important intangible asset is safeguarded, says Ullrich.

Tech startups - limited budgets and tight timeframes

'If you don't own your brand, or you have conflicted rights with your brand, what do you have?' says Ullrich. 'In the startup tech space, when you're looking at a limited budget and a tight timeframe, it's easy to let trade marking fall down the list of priorities. But if you don't protect those rights up front, it can be disruptive to the entire business and fundamentally affect the value of your company.'

Ullrich says the cost-benefit of appropriate IP protection is worth every cent. He also recommends those in the tech space take steps early on to ensure they're not only protected in New Zealand, but that they are also thinking further afield at potential offshore markets.

'A few thousand can seem a lot in the beginning, but if you've spent millions of dollars of investors' money building up a brand only to find you no longer own that brand, the destruction of value is extensive.

You need to work with a firm that can give you pragmatic legal advice when you're making decisions about how far and wide you protect your mark, and one that can provide common-sense advice if you do end up in some sort of dispute. Damon's given us excellent advice, and he has a great depth of knowledge within the space.

- Jeremy Ullrich, ZOOMY

Challenges with branding

Damon Butler says a typical challenge with branding is finding a balance between a name that's distinctive enough to protect as a trade mark and one that also communicates the qualities or characteristics of the product/service being promoted by the trade mark. 

'In this case, they've come up with a really good mix,' he says. 'The ZOOMY brand is catchy and distinctive, and a great choice for conveying travel, speed and convenience.  I think they have a great future. They've identified a gap in the market and have developed a user-friendly product under a name that reflects how people are increasingly using smartphone technology in their everyday lives.

Advice for new business owners

'My advice to new-business owners is: don't overlook the importance of your IP. Just because you think you've come up with great name, that's not the end of the story - it's often only the beginning.  Test your assumptions with your IP advisor who's best placed to provide expert guidance.'

 

An edited version of this client story appeared in the Septober/October issue of Idealog Magazine.