Drawing the ire of one of the world’s biggest internet companies has been an unexpected boon for a young small town internet entrepreneur who dropped out of school in grade 8.
Andries Maree van der Merwe, who taught himself to code, saw the number of hits on his site Doogle.co.za rocket from around 2 000 per month to 1.1 million per month on the day news hit the web in November 2012 of Google’s intention to sue the 23-year-old.
Since then, traffic to his site has fallen to a respectable 50 000 hits per month, even after he opted for an out-of-court settlement with the web giant in February for an undisclosed sum, which resulted in him changing the name of the site to Vroopleys.
But Van der Merwe doesn’t seem perturbed by this, particularly as the attention has helped attract interest from at least one overseas investor, whom he says he met he through social network site LinkedIn.
Van der Merwe, who lives in Middelburg, Mpumalanga, declined to name the investor who he has yet to meet with, saying only that he was from one of the big five internet companies.
Many may say he backed down, but Van der Merwe doesn’t have any misgivings about opting to settle with Google.
“If I didn’t take the settlement, I would have had to go to court, which would have cost R300 000,” he says, adding “it’s not a bad settlement, I’m happy with the settlement”.
As part of the settlement, the search engine giant agreed to allow him to use the Doogle.co.za domain name – which directs to his new domain name Vroopleys.com – for six months.
Van der Merwe, who was forced to drop out of school for personal reasons, added that he’s “not mad at Google.”
Ironically, it was thanks to Google that he was able to teach himself how to code and build his website. That, and having a home far away from traffic, in the bush, helps him to think and spend long hours on his computer.
Yet while his site drew Google’s ire, two other similar-sounding ones are still live. The one, doogle.com, is a forum site, and doogle.org is a search engine claiming to be from Ireland.
Small town internet entrepreneur Andries Maree van der Merwe is happy with the settlement he reached with multinational internet giant Google.
He reckons Google decided to take him on because as a young, ambitious guy, he represents a threat to the internet giant. He says the two other similar-sounding sites have been around for some time and get few hits.
In another case involving a wrangle over intellectual property, an independent softdrinks owner who took on Woolworths last year and won, said that the retailer had complied with the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) ruling made in January last year.
The ASA ruled that the retailer must remove within three months from its shelves all drinks products bearing the slogan “good olde-fashioned”.
Mike Schmidt of Frankie’s Olde Soft Drink Company believed Woolworths copied his slogans and straplines and used the same drink flavours he had developed after he had pitched the softdrink to the retailer a few months before.
Schmidt, who has since trademarked the slogan “good olde fashioned softdrinks” and a “taste of yesteryear”, said he had since met with Woolworths’ chief executive, Ian Moir, and that there were no hard feelings.
Schmidt said an unexpected outcome from the saga was the sudden 40% spike in sales, which created temporary cash flow and distribution problems.
Business owners who find that a competitor has copied their product or service can turn to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). They will, however, have to pay a non-refundable fee of R19 608 for their case to be investigated.
In 2012, of the 2 103 complaints the ASA received, 147 were competitor complaints, with about three-quarters of these lodged by large firms on behalf of recognised brands. As of the end of September this year, the ASA had received 60 competitor complaints.
ASA manager of dispute resolutions, Leon Grobler, said 86 competitor complaints were investigated, a further 32 were dismissed – some of them because complainants did not elect to pay the non-refundable fee – and 30 were upheld. The balance was spread predominantly between companies undertaking to voluntarily amend or withdraw their ads, or where some other resolution was reached between the parties, he said.