Ex-Google Employees Sue Hulu for Attempting to Stop "Humu"

28 BIZ Hulu Illustration
Illustration: Mark McGinnis

According to a new lawsuit, "Hulu" is Mandarin while "Humu" is short for “humuhumunukunuku apua’a,” the Hawaiian name for a triggerfish. Can Hulu stop a business calling itself Humu? Three former Google employees are suing to find out.

The brainchild of Wayne Crosby, Laszlo Bock and Jessie Wisdom, Humu is a company attempting to apply machine learning to human talent development.  Specifically, Humu is looking to sell a product called the "Nudge Engine" to human resource departments nationwide. Supposedly, the product employs psychological research and algorithms to encourage employees to take small personal steps to improve the workplace experience.

If happiness is the goal, Humu's own corporate fulfillment is being stymied by the Handmaid's Tale streamer challenging a trademark registration.

At the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, Hulu asserts that there is a likelihood of confusion between "Hulu" and "Humu" in that "both marks begin with the letter 'H,' both marks are short, both marks have two syllables, both marks share the feature of the 'internal rhyming' of their two syllables through the double use of the letter 'U,' and both marks employ a consonant between the two letters 'U,' with the consonant being the only letter difference."

Hulu has also sent Humu a cease-and-desist, which has Humu now going to court for declaratory relief so that it can live free and prosper without threat.

Represented by attorneys at the top law firm, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, Humu says its name was inspired by the Hawaiian name for a triggerfish after its founders first connected and struck up a friendship in Hawaii.

"Its sound and appearance are evocative of 'human' in connection with the company’s human resources services," states the complaint. "With these two qualities, HUMU seemed like the perfect choice."

Humu says it has been operating in stealth mode, though written up in Forbes and The New York Times. Its prospective clients "are not confused in any respect about whether they are dealing with a consumer entertainment company when encountering the mark HUMU on Plaintiff’s software and services and evaluating a purchase decision," adds the complaint.

As for Hulu, did you know it's Mandarin?

Well, that's according to the complaint, which seizes upon a (since deleted) word on Hulu's company blog: "In Mandarin, Hulu has two interesting meanings, each highly relevant to our mission. The primary meaning interested us because it is used in an ancient Chinese proverb that describes the Hulu as the holder of precious things. It literally translates to 'gourd,' and in ancient times, the Hulu was hollowed out and used to hold precious things. The secondary meaning is 'interactive recording.' We saw both definitions as appropriate bookends and highly relevant to the mission of Hulu."