Russian startup Surfingbird accused of patent violation by US giant Stumbleupon
Surfingbird.ru, the first mover on Russia’s nascent web content discovery market, could become a victim of its own success, having attracted the hostile attention of global leader Stumbleupon.com.
So far things have gone relatively well for Surfingbird. Launched in June 2011, the startup secured a $2.5 million series A round just a few months later, attracting the attention of Russian and French business angels. It has clearly outpaced local competitor Netflip.ru, which was created at approximately the same time but has since disappeared.
Surfingbird’s traction has increased noticeably over the last few months. In December Condé Nast Russia announced that it had made the contents of several of its websites – including Vogue.ru and Glamour.ru – available to Surfingbird users, hoping to gain additional traffic from the young site.
Surfingbird is now approaching the 700,000 user mark with practically no marketing budget, CEO Sergey Shalaev told East-West Digital News. Some one third of this figure represents active users on a monthly basis, Shalaev said.
In its first steps towards monetization, the startup has also enrolled some major clients. Sony, P&G, Indesit and Enter.ru are testing Surfingbird’s advanced targeting capacities to enhance their marketing campaigns.
Last month Surfingbird was recognized by Vkontakte founder Pavel Durov, who selected it as one of a dozen startups to benefit from Start Fellows, a grant program which he launched last year with Yuri Milner.
A copycat with homemade algorithms
Meanwhile, the Russian startup – which has its site in English language – has appeared on the radar of some little friendly US web giants. “In late 2012, Facebook asked us to stop using our ‘thumb up’ icon, our equivalent of the ‘Like’ button,” Shalaev told EWDN. “They insisted on changing this symbol ‘to something else’ – which we did in February.”
Even more threateningly, the US service whose concept has inspired Surfingbird – global giant Stumbleupon – last month accused the Russian startup of violating its patent on the “Method and System for Single-Action Personalized Recommendation and Display of Internet Content.”
The US company has asked that Surfingbird’s mobile application be withdrawn from the App Store – a request which Apple has not complied with so far.
Shalaev is confident about the outcome: “While the idea of our service is obviously similar to StumbleUpon, we have had no information about their recommendation systems and algorithms, and our approach differs from their patent in several crucial places.”
Surfingbird undeniably has its own strong R&D capacities, as witnessed by its status as a resident company of Skolkovo. The giant tech hub nearing completion outside Moscow has endorsed its research on “a combination of topic and content models for web pages with classic collaborative filtering,” according to Sergey Nikolenko, Surfingbird’s Head of Research.
Yet the Russian David might still get involved in a harassing and costly legal procedure, should the US Goliath decide to go to court.
At the time of publication, Stumbleupon had not responded to telephone and email inquiries from EWDN.
First published in East-West Digital News (EWDN.COM), a leading English-language resource dedicated to Russian digital industries.