WeWork sues Long Beach co-working firm with similar name

WeWork and WE Labs logos (graphic: Lexi Pilgrim)
WeWork and WE Labs logos (graphic: Lexi Pilgrim)

UPDATED, 12:23 p.m., June 29: WeWork has been taking Los Angeles by storm, and now it’s trying to ensure no competitors slow its stride.

The international co-working giant recently filed a trademark lawsuit against office space provider Work Evolution Laboratories, or WE Labs for short.

Based in Long Beach, WE Labs was created in 2012 — one year after WeWork opened its first L.A. outpost in Hollywood. In the complaint, WeWork alleges that WE Labs has used a “confusingly similar” name to suggest a connection to WeWork. It’s suing under trademark infringement and unfair competition.

“Defendant’s Marks are confusingly similar to WeWork’s Marks in sight, sound and commercial meaning,” WeWork’s complaint reads. “Defendant’s WE LABS mark consists of WeWork’s WEWORK LABS mark, except that it removes the internal term WORK…”

The complaint was filed by WeWork’s attorneys: Michael Roth of Caldwell Leslie & Proctor; in addition to James Weinberger and Leo Kittay of Fross Zelnick Lehrman & Zissu.

WE Labs owner Mike Haynes said the company is not intimidated by these claims.

“The thing is, they don’t seem to understand that it’s two words, ‘work evolution,’” Haynes told The Real Deal. “We’re pretty prepared for their little civil lawsuit action.”

Haynes added that his company is ready with its own team of attorneys.

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Haynes said WE Labs is the only co-working space in Long Beach and that there was never any confusion. For a while, WE Labs did operate an internal marketing firm with the name “The Works with WE Labs”, but later changed it to “Innovatory.”

WeWork initially offered WE Labs a settlement to change its name, he said, but it was not enough to cover all the costs of rebranding.

“They feel like they have the rights to everything because they’re [valued at] $16 billion but the big difference between WeWork and WE Labs that we are focused on small businesses and they’re not,” Haynes added. “They’re focused on expanding their own business.”

WeWork claims in the lawsuit that it has “suffered an injury” and “lost money or property” as a result of WE Labs’ illicit use of the “WE” marks, and now demands these damages by a jury trial.

“The WeWork brand is an important asset to the company and to our members. It is necessary for us to protect it and avoid any confusion in the marketplace,” a company spokesperson told TRD.

According to a source familiar with the case, WeWork chose to pursue legal action out of fear it would lose the right to litigate in the future if it didn’t act.  In past cases, companies who did not protect their trademark forfeited the right to that trademark, the source said.

Haynes claimed WeWork is making a fuss because it has recently bought property in Long Beach, and wants to lock down that market. But a WeWork spokesperson said the company has no immediate plans of expansion there.

WeWork, which is based in New York, recently signed a 75,000-square-foot lease at Hudson Pacific Properties’ Playa Vista project call the Landing, TRD first reported in April. In addition to its Hollywood location, WeWork has a 90,000-square-foot block at the Gas Company Tower in DTLA, 44,500 square feet in the Fine Arts Building and another two locations in Santa Monica. It is also opening in Culver City and Pasadena.

Correction: An earlier version of this story identified the former name of WE Lab’s internal marketing firm as “WE Works” and the new name as “Innovatoring” due to incorrect remarks by a WE Labs associate. The old name was “The Works with WE Labs” and the new name is “Innovatory.” The story has also been updated to clarify that WeWork alleges that We Labs chose to infer a connection via a similar name, but WeWork does not have a trademark on the word “we.”