South African school dropout takes on Google
Young South African entrepreneur vows to fight search engine giant's legal threat to jobs website
One is among the world's most powerful corporations, a behemoth with a market capitalisation of US$250 billion. The other is a loss-making website owned by a school dropout on a computer bought from a pawn shop for US$68.
It's Google v Doogle.
The unlikely duel has come about after a young South African entrepreneur received a letter threatening legal action because his site's name and logo are too similar to Google's.
Andries Maree van der Merwe, who turns 23 this week, vowed to fight all the way in what his lawyer describes as a "David and Goliath" contest.
Van der Merwe, from Middelburg in Mpumalanga province, set up Doogle after dropping out of school at 16 to look for a job. While working as a newspaper vendor, he hit upon the idea of a site to help the unemployed.
"I sold newspapers on street corners and people told me what was wrong," he recalled. "They wanted a place where they go to find a job."
Van der Merwe found an investor and, in January 2011, registered doogle.co.za, a site that allows jobseekers to upload their details for free and search online directories.
"The name just popped into my head. I said, 'That's the name I'm going for - people will remember it.' I searched domain names and it was available."
Unlike Google's sprawling campus in California's Silicon Valley, Doogle is run on a shoestring. Van der Merwe said: "For a year or so I suffered. I had nothing. I'm still using a computer I bought at a pawn shop for 600 rand (HK$526) and it's very slow.
"I haven't made any money from the site. Sometimes I have to catch fish from the river to eat. But I think God is with me."
Doogle received a million hits in its first year, Van der Merwe added, and is now up to about 10,000 per day.
"Eventually I want to have a successful company and help people. I know a guy who got a job through Doogle and he's now a manager."
But the shadow of Google looms large. Van der Merwe said it had complained that his logo and search engine infringe its copyright and there is a danger that users will assume Doogle is associated with Google. He rejects the claims and has offered to place a notice on his site distancing it from Google.
"When I got a letter from Google's lawyers, all I could do was smile," he continued. "I didn't expect it but I'm not going to get negative. I'm feeling good because I know the law is with me. If they want to take me to court, I will go all the way."
Van der Merwe, who earns some income as a software developer, added: "I'm not angry at Google - I'm still using their web search now. They can take me to court and we can settle this like businessmen. I will just go on. I'm still young. I have nothing to lose. I'm starting to be successful."
His lawyer, Emmie de Kock, said her firm had been instructed to represent Doogle "in a possible David-Goliath battle".
She added: "The services provided by Doogle-it are distinguishable from the services of Google in the sense that Doogle-it provides online search facilities on its website for specific directories relating to businesses, job seekers, property listings and motor trading, for entries registered on its local databases."
Google declined to answer questions about Doogle directly. Julie Taylor, a spokeswoman for the company in South Africa, said: "We are passionate about protecting the reputation of our brand as an objective and fair provider of search results. We simply ask our users not to shorten, abbreviate or create acronyms out of Google trademarks.
"We have to turn down many requests for use of Google brand features because sites imply that Google is endorsing them or is otherwise affiliated with them."