Uber causes potential roadblock at Seoul National University

There’s no denying Uber’s role in redefining how we use public transportation. The American vehicle sharing company has made it easier, cheaper and quicker to get from A to B, with no need for prior bookings or cash payments.

Having reached global household name status, it now seems as though Uber is trying to protect its brand as much as humanly possible — and that includes going after even the most unsuspecting of cases.

In February, the company accused the Seoul National University in South Korea of brand infringement over a self-driving car that’s been developed by the university’s Intelligent Vehicle IT Research Center. The car’s been dubbed ‘SNUver’ — a combination of the university’s initials and the word ‘driver’ — but certain sections of the Korean media have been incorrectly reporting it as ‘SNUber’.

Uber was swift in sending a cease-and-desist letter to SNU over the name ‘SNUber’. The university responded saying that the ‘SNUber’ name was in fact incorrect and not in use, but Uber then sent a second official letter accusing the official ‘SNUver’ name of copyright infringement. Seo Seung-woo, director of the Intelligent Vehicle IT Research Center, denounced the case as the “high-handed actions of a huge multinational corporation”.

“Uber sent certified mail claiming the similarity between its own name Uber and the name SNUver developed by the research team was an infringement of copyright,” Seo said. “Some people are using the term ‘SNUber’, but that’s not an official term.”

What’s particularly interesting here is the impact that the misquoting of the ‘SNUver’ name has had on the case. Had the term ‘SNUber’ not been reported, the case might not exist at all. However, the fact that the press has been confusing the two names could be enough evidence to conclude that there is the potential for widespread confusion, and in turn, copyright infringement.

Another aspect worth noting is the way in which SNU is pronounced in Korean and how this might affect the case. Koreans would pronounce it as ‘su nu beo’ (there’s no accurate way of pronouncing the letter ‘V’ in Korean), which Uber has claimed sounds very similar to ‘Uber’ when spoken. SNU, on the other hand, has clearly countered this argument, saying that the Korean name actually sounds very different in the native language.

For now, Seo has made it clear that he and his team will continue to use the SNUver name despite Uber’s protestations, but it remains to be seen just how seriously this case will be dealt with.