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Have Your Say: Is the Uber Case a One Off or a Sign of Deeper Divisions?

By David Knight |

Any city that we go into, we look at the regulatory environment. It’s the very first thing we do. We’re confident that, having looked at the regulatory environment here in Berlin and elsewhere in Germany, we’re able to operate here.

So said Simon Breakwell, previously a co-founder of travel site Expedia and then the head of EMEA for Uber, in an interview with Silicon Allee last year ahead of the car platform’s launch in Berlin.

Well, that’s not going well so far. As you may have heard, the chairman of Berlin’s taxi association was successful in gaining an interim injunction against Uber on Thursday, arguing that it is effectively a rental car rather than taxi business.

It’s not quite ‘Berlin bans Uber’ – Richard Leipold, the chairman in question, is not enforcing the ruling in case it is later overturned and he might be ordered to pay compensation for lost earnings – but it is a blow for the Silicon Valley-based company, which only this week launched its ridesharing service UberPop.

Uber has vowed to fight the decision, while Mr. Leipold was at pains to avoid the case being seen as David vs. Goliath; the plucky disruptive tech newcomer struggling against the established order protecting its turf. According to the Financial Times, he said: “This isn’t a student startup against a big taxi cartel. Uber is backed by Google. If I’m wearing gym shorts I don’t want to compete against someone wearing hobnailed boots.”

In a statement, Uber countered that by claiming that such legal action only served vested interests: “The only thing these companies care for is maintaining the old, blocking the new, preventing more people from having more choice, failing consumers and their own drivers.”

Time will tell whether the ruling is confirmed or not. But it might serve as a warning to new technologies and platforms looking to disrupt established markets and make them more efficient – beware an industry scorned.

Have your say – does this ruling illustrate a wider clash between the old and the new, or is it just a one-off based on this specific market? Comment below.