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Lulu v. Hulu: Web Publisher Sues NBC/Fox Venture

Lulu, a privately held digital-media publishing firm, filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against Hulu – the yet-to-be-launched Internet-video joint venture of NBC Universal and News Corp. – alleging trademark infringement, unfair and deceptive trade practices and cyberpiracy.

In the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Lulu alleged that Hulu “unfairly trade[s] upon the goodwill that Lulu has established… Defendants’ use of a closely similar name and mark to promote closely related services creates a likelihood of confusion.”

The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages and an injunction prohibiting the NBCU and News Corp. joint venture from using Hulu, Hulu.com or any similar name. It also seeks to have the Hulu.com domain name transferred to Lulu.

Hulu representative Christina Lee declined to comment on the suit. “At this moment, we’re not commenting on matters of litigation,” she said.

Hulu, which plans to launch a private beta version of its service until next month, is supposed to provide free, ad-supported TV shows from NBC, Fox and cable networks including Comcast's E! Entertainment Television, Style, G4, Versus and The Golf Channel, Oxygen, Fox Cable Networks’ Fuel TV and Speed Channel and Sundance Channel.

Lulu provides services that let people publish and sell user-generated content, including books, DVDs, videos, images and music. In addition to its main site, the company also operates Lulu TV, a video-sharing site.

Morrisville, N.C.-based Lulu was founded in 2002 by Bob Young, who previously co-founded open-source software company Red Hat in the early 1990s. Lulu claims to have 1.2 million registered users who publish more than 4,000 new pieces of content every week.

“We have spent more than five years and tens of millions of dollars in investment successfully building the Lulu brand and Web site into a place for millions of creators and consumers to publish, buy, sell and manage digital content,” Young said, in a statement. “It is clear we are required to move quickly to protect our intellectual property and defend ourselves against this infringement before it significantly damages our business.”

Lulu asserted that Hulu’s trademark filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, dated Aug. 22, identifies products and services that “are related to, and even identical to, the services that Lulu provides under its Lulu marks.”

The Hulu trademark specifies claims covering, among other things, “digital media, namely, streaming or downloadable audio-visual content in the fields of news, entertainment, sports, comedy, drama, music, and music videos.”