UK startup defends Huddle name against Google — again

Huddle co-founders Alastair Mitchell and Andy McLoughlin

One of the many features Google (s GOOG) debuted in its highly anticipated Google+ social product last week was a group chat application named “Huddle.” At least one company was particularly nonplussed by Google’s big launch: Huddle, a London-based startup that provides cloud-based communication software.

Interestingly, this is not the first time Google has stepped on Huddle’s brand name turf. A few years back, Google launched an internally developed cloud collaboration app called “Huddlechat.” The app was promptly pulled entirely after some pretty intense criticism surfaced in the press about Huddlechat’s similarities to both Huddle and 37Signals’ Campfire product.

Huddle, the company, which has raised $14.2 million in its five years in business, issued a blog post today about its second brush with a Google-owned doppelganger. Overall, it seems that the startup is not exactly pleased with the situation — and it is not taking it lightly:

“There has been much speculation on Twitter and in the press as to whether the feature in Google+ is a joint venture between us and Google.  While the Huddle feature in Google+ appears designed to foster personal collaboration based on relationships and consumers’ interests, the Huddle feature in Google+ is not associated with Huddle, the leader in enterprise cloud collaboration and content management. There have also been suggestions that Google has, in fact, acquired us. There is no basis to such speculation.

…The Huddle team has worked hard to build its brand visibility worldwide and maintaining this is extremely important.  We have contacted Google about this matter, and our hope and preference, of course, is that this issue reaches a timely and amicable resolution.”

But while it was easy for Google to retract a small, quickly deployed proof-of-concept app like HuddleChat, the latest mixup will probably not be corrected so simply. Google+ is such a massive project that it seems unlikely Google will backpedal on the Huddle app unless there is a real legal problem with the way it uses the name. Huddle is a word in the common vernacular, so by putting the word “Google” in front of it, the app is probably in the clear from a legal standpoint.

It is unclear if the Google+ team was aware of Huddle the startup, or of the earlier Huddlechat debacle, at the time that it named the group chat application. This could simply be a classic case of what can happen at a very large corporation: Often, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing — or has already done in the past. Unfortunately for Huddle and other companies like it, it’s often the industry’s smaller players who feel the negative effects of that miscommunication the most.