Lyft: a disruptive name

A trendy name won't disrupt an industry; but it can disrupt marketing.

Business names made from intentionally misspelled word is all the rage now. For many businesses, the name is disruptive, just not the way the owners intended.

“Dry Fit” without “i” ?

Misspelling doesn't make you unique

Some businesses owners may think y-for-an-i makes a brand name unique. That may be correct… until you stack the name against similar names.

The truth is, a word like “drift” is no more unique than “dryft”, especially when it comes to trademarking. Under trademark law in the U.S. and other countries, “drift” is equivalent to “dryft”. If you cannot trademark “Drift”, y-for-an-i won't help you.

In fact, y-for-an-i can make a business look like a trend follower (rather than a disruptive force) and cause confusion as to what a name means.

What works for Lyft may not work for you

Lyft did not have a smooth route in getting “Lyft” trademarked.

The company filed the trademark application for “computer software for coordinating transportation services” in 2012 and for “transportation of passengers by motorized vehicle” in 2014. Both applications were initially rejected on the ground that the mark “merely describes a feature of the applicant’s services.”

In both cases, Lyft argued that the mark was not descriptive. Moreover, the company argued that the mark had acquired distinctiveness.

Building a case for acquired distinctiveness

The following were some evidence that Lyft used:

  • Lyft has promoted its mark on Facebook, Google Adwords, Pandora, Spotify, Groupon, LivingSocial, … etc.,
  • Lyft has had prolific uses of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and has had massive following,
  • Lyft has received over $300 million from investors, and
  • Lyft has had substantial amount of unsolicited media attention.

For many businesses, building a convincing case of acquired distinctiveness is almost impossible.

Information regarding Lyft's trademark applications is public record. You can read it here and here.

A mere misspelled mark can cost you

Getting your business name (your identity) recognized and protected can be a difficult and time-consuming process.

Unless you have several hundred million of dollars from investors, do not name your company after a descriptive word with creative spelling:

  • you may need to divert your marketing effort in educate customers on proper pronunciation of your name,
  • you would need to spend more marketing money to promote your name,
  • you may not be able to register and protect your mark, especially if your mark is diluted in some ways

Cover image by Ashim D’Silva