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Uber claims Korea’s self-driving car infringes trademark

US ride-sharing company Uber Technologies said Seoul National University has infringed upon its trademark and it is preparing to take legal action, according to Korea’s top university on Friday.

“Uber told us the name of our self-driving car SNUver infringed their trademark Uber and it is in preparation of taking legal action. We consider this as tyranny of the multinational corporation,” a Seoul National University professor Seo Seung-woo, who has led the development of self-driving car SNUver, told The Korea Herald on Friday.

SNUver is a fourth level self-driving car first developed by the university’s research team in November 2015. Its official name is SNUver -- a compound word of SNU and driver -- but foreign and local media have sometimes mistakenly called it SNUber.

The dispute on their trademarks began in July last year when the US tech firm asked the university to stop using the name SNUber, saying the name SNUber infringed the trademark of its ride-sharing app Uber.

Seo then replied to Uber that they would not be using the name SNUber because its official name is SNUver.

The university soon applied to trademark the Korean name -- which is pronounced “su nu beo,” as there is no accurate way to pronounce the letter “V” in Korean -- with the Korean Intellectual Property Office in the same month. In November, it unveiled the upgraded SNUver 2. 

Self-driving car SNUver developed by the Seoul National University (Seoul National University)
Self-driving car SNUver developed by the Seoul National University (Seoul National University)

Last month, Uber sent a letter again to the college, asking it stop using all names including SNUver, SNUver 2 and even the Korean name, and warned it would take legal action otherwise.

The Korean name, Uber claimed, sounds the same as Uber.

SNU’s Seo countered that the Korean name sounds very different from Uber in the local language.

“Based on the similar precedents of the Supreme Court, it can be considered there is no similarity between the trademarks SNUver and Uber. We will keep using the name SNUver,” Seo said.

Uber’s spokesperson replied in an email statement, “We cannot comment on an ongoing legal discussion.”

SNUver and SNUver 2 have been used for research purposes to develop autonomous technologies. Seo said there is no intention of profiteering from the car for now, although he may sell the self-driving technologies to automakers in the future. 

By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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