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Recent Alerts

Utility Litigation Monthly Watchdog Report

Stay Informed and Alert!

eComp Consultants initiates the distribution of a monthly litigation alert bulletin to utility company executives and legal counsel within the energy sector of the utility industry. The bulletin, entitled Utility Litigation Alert, provides timely information on litigation activity occurring throughout the industry involving intellectual property associated with technology relating to smart grid initiatives and web-based customer interactions. It also serves as early warning as to potential risks of such litigation causing negative impacts to project initiatives.

See our Consulting Service page to learn about eComp’s Risk Assessment service which describes proactive ways to make sure your company is not infringing others’ IP rights, and to potentially avoid a lawsuit.


utility litigation alerts

Web Based Customer Interaction Systems – February 2012

For more than two years now, patent infringement lawsuits have been filed against utility companies, product vendors and service providers who are involved with smart grid project initiatives.  More recently, a new area of concern over potential litigation risk has emerged regarding Web Based Customer Interaction Systems and  processes involving the delivery and management of online messages, and that extend beyond routine call tracking activities associated with customer relationship management.

One such case is highlighted below and exemplifies the expanding realm of patent litigation activity that may impact your company’s operations.

Unified Messaging Solutions LLC v Facebook Inc, et al – filed on March 15, 2011 in the Eastern District of Texas

More than two dozen defendants, including energy companies, banks and online dating and networking sites are being targeted in this law suit filed by United Messaging Solutions LLC, a subsidiary of Acacia Research Corporation, and who own the rights to the patented processes defined in the patents entitled “Systems and methods for storing, delivering and managing messages”.

In addition to energy giants Reliant Energy Inc, Reliant Energy Retail Holdings LLC, TXU Energy Retail Company and Atmos Energy Corporation, close to two dozen other companies, including Bank of America, Facebook, E-Trade Financial, LinkedIn, eHarmony, T-Mobile and Verizon have been named defendants and charged with allegedly infringing United’s patents through operation of their web-based services.

According to the complaint, defendants have purportedly directly infringed and continue to directly infringe one or more claims of the patent by or through their making, having made, offer for sale, sale, and/or use of the patented systems and methods for storing, delivering, and managing messages through operation of their respective web-based communication service(s), including webmail services, accessible via their respective web site(s), and/or their messaging/mail/web server(s).”

For example, as the complaint asserts, Reliant has committed direct infringement through the operation of its “Previous Bills” feature, TXU through its “Bill History” feature, and Atmos via its “Message Center” feature, all of which are accessible through their respective web sites.

Infringement accusations lodged against other defendants relate to the operation of their web sites for purposes of providing such online services as billing, statement delivery, account activity, banking, and general webmail facilities.  These types of vague and general assertions could potentially be lodged against most utility companies.

Two months after the case was filed, claims against Reliant Energy Inc were dismissed without prejudice but may be re-filed at a later date, if and when new evidence is made available and/or procedural errors that may have caused a dismissal are corrected.  Five months later, in October, 2011, the claims against Reliant Energy Retail Holdings LLC were determined to be patently flawed and/or without merit and therefore dismissed with prejudice and thus cannot be re-litigated.  Just days later, claims against Atmos Energy were similarly dismissed with prejudice.

Atmos Energy”s online payment systems and/or services to customers also came under fire in another patent infringement suit launched in December, 2010 by patent holder Leon Stambler.  Eighteen companies are also named in this suit for allegedly infringing Stambler’s patents entitled “Method for Securing Information Relevant to a Transaction” by providing customers the use of secure online payment systems and/or services through their interactive online web sites.  This case is currently in mediation in an attempt to reach an out-of-court agreement and thus avoid a costly trial.  We will report the status of this litigation in our next bulletin.

PREVENTION IS THE BEST PROTECTION:

eComp Consultants provides a Risk Assessment service that is designed to assist companies in evaluating the potential litigation risks associated with the deployment and/or ongoing operation of this technology. Click here to learn about proactive ways to make sure your company is not infringing others’ IP rights, and to potentially avoid a lawsuit.