Instacart alleges Cornershop, which runs Uber Grocery, has stolen its images and other intellectual property.

By Mike Pomranz
July 17, 2020
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As the online grocery shopping and delivery market grows in the U.S., Instacart has battled competition both big and small to become one of the most prominent players in the industry. But earlier this month, a new big-name competitor entered the fold: Uber Grocery is launching in partnership with the South American grocery delivery company Cornershop. (Uber is reportedly set to acquire Cornershop but the deal is still awaiting approval.) But don’t expect Instacart to roll over: In fact, quite the opposite. Instacart has already filed a lawsuit against Cornershop alleging the new kid on the grocery block has been using some illegal business practices.

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“[Yesterday], Instacart filed a lawsuit against Cornershop after the company failed to comply with a cease and desist demanding it stop stealing our catalog and using our misappropriated intellectual property,” Instacart said in an emailed statement. “The lawsuit makes clear that Cornershop is engaging in a systematic effort to illegally steal Instacart’s proprietary catalog while attempting to conceal that theft for its own commercial benefit. In light of the egregious behavior exhibited by Cornershop, we believe this legal action is necessary to protect our business and retail partners from Cornershop’s ongoing theft.”

In an official blog post, Instacart elaborated on its accusations. The company explains its has “invested tens of millions of dollars and a tireless amount of effort [. . .] to develop proprietary technology and operations to collect, photograph and curate items from more than 30,000 store locations”—something that “has been critical to Instacart’s success.” Specifically, the post alleges that Cornershop has stolen “thousands of Instacart copyrighted images” and then modified file names “to conceal the ownership.” Finally, Instacart says they discovered that Cornershop has been “posting jobs for engineers with ‘advanced scraping’ and ‘bypassing “rate limiting”’ skills that indicate that this is a strategic effort for the company.”

In its legal filing, Instacart asks for both preliminary and permanent injunctive relief and monetary damages of “an amount to be proven at trial.”

As expected, Uber didn’t seem particularly phased by the legal action. “Instacart is facing a new challenge in the U.S. from a Chilean upstart, and it’s unfortunate that their first move is litigation instead of competition,” an Uber spokesperson told me via email. “Cornershop will be responding to this complaint but won’t be deterred in bringing grocery delivery to more customers in the U.S.”

For its part, Instacart did address this potential retort in its blog post, writing, “Our mission is to create a world where everyone has access to food they love and more time to enjoy it together. We believe that this mission is an inherently positive one and we’re supportive of companies that want to help achieve it. While we welcome competition and innovation, what Cornershop is doing is illegal.”