David and Goliath Take Their Fight Online

David and Goliath Take Their Fight Online


They’re eBay, the US-based auction website where anybody can sell anything to anyone. The local firm is TPN (Tenant Profile Network), a Johannesburg-based company that operates a website called Rentbay.

Who’s who

They’re a listed business based in the US with a market capitalisation of $65.5 billion. TPN is a tenant credit bureau based in Johannesburg; the closest they get to 65 billion is converting their turnover into Zim dollars.

They have 230 million registered users. TPN has 11 000 listed rental properties.

They have revenue of $13.46 billion. Rentbay lists rental properties in South Africa at no charge.

They sell voodoo spells and cornflakes shaped like Illinois. TPN helps landlords rent out flats in Randburg.

TPN is in the property business. They were in the property business. And they’re suing TPN.

A “bay” by any other name?

According to the four-page lawyer’s letter sent to TPN on 7 May 2012, their use of Rentbay is likely to cause “deception or confusion” as well as take “unfair advantage of” eBay’s trademarks. In a statement, TPN said “We won’t quote all that legalese, but we do like this bit:

‘The use of the trademark RENTBAY by your client is likely to mislead members of the public to believe that there is a connection or association of services between its services and our client, which is untrue. Your client’s conduct in this regard amounts to passing off under common law.’ The lawyers have instructed TPN to stop using rentbay.co.za and the trade mark RENTBAY.”

The numbers don’t lie

Is it possible that they’re right? Do visitors really go to rentbay.co.za thinking they’ve found eBay? To understand what brings visitors to Rentbay, TPN looked at its analytics.

Since 2008, Rentbay has not attracted a single visitor who searched for eBay and ended up with them. The vast majority of the local site’s visitors are from South Africa who land up on rentbay.co.za because they’re looking for a place to stay.

Landlords use the service to list anything from a R1 800 room in an apartment in Honeydew to a R154 000 a month mansion in Hout Bay, so this is not surprising.

Are Rentbay visitors confused?

Based on this evidence, TPN says, “We have to conclude that there is no likelihood of confusion with eBay or association with its services. We don’t make a cent out of Rentbay; it’s a free service meant to make life easier for South African landlords and tenants.

So we don’t see why we should just roll over just because they’re big and American and have lots of lawyers.”

To find out for yourself, go to rentbay.co.za (as opposed to eBay!). You’ll see houses and flats and bachelor pads – but we can’t promise Egyptian decorative glass Aladdin lamps, Dream Glow Barbie colouring in books or George Clooney autographed photos for $15.99.

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