NetRatings Files Patent Suit

NetRatings on Monday said it filed a patent-infringement lawsuit against rival The NPD Group, alleging a violation of its patent for tracking computer use.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Delaware, alleges that NPD’s Web measurement methods include those covered by U.S. Patent No. 6,115,680. NetRatings seeks unspecified monetary damages and a permanent injunction against NPD using the patented technology.

“Our patents provide the foundation for current and future products and services that address the needs of an evolving industry, and it is critical that NetRatings protect these important assets,” said William Pulver, NetRatings’ president and chief executive.

The NPD Group is a Port Washington, N.Y.-based marketing company that gleans insights on consumer behavior from a panel of 600,000.

Milipitas, Calif.-based NetRatings acquired the patent last May in its $15 million settlement of its patent litigation with former rival Jupiter Media Metrix. Jupiter filed a patent-infringement suit against NetRatings in March 2001, citing Nos. 6,115,680 and 5,675,510.

The patent claims were seemingly put to rest in October 2001, when NetRatings and Jupiter Media Metrix inked a $71.2 million merger deal. However, federal regulators’ objections to the marriage of the two top Web measurement firms scuttled the deal, putting the patent litigation back in play. In May 2002, with Jupiter Media Metrix nearing financial collapse, NetRatings struck the deal to end the litigation by acquiring the patents outright. NetRatings also acquired Jupiter Media Metrix’s AdRelevance unit.

Jupiter Media Metrix eventually split in two, with the research half of the company acquired by the parent company of this Web site in June. ComScore Networks acquired the Media Metrix audience panel the same month.

By wielding the patent again, NetRatings could resume the patent battles that roiled the industry after No. 6,115,680 was issued to Jupiter Media Metrix in September 2000. Jupiter Media Metrix aggressively defended the patent, which broadly covers Web measurement. In addition to targeting NetRatings, the company filed patent-infringement suits against PC Data and NetValue.

Patent battles were common in the Internet’s boom days, when companies used them to create elbow room in crowded industries. With the collapse of the Internet sector and widespread consolidation, patent lawsuits have subsided. Recently, however, some industries that saw their fair share of patent litigation in their earlier days have seen signs of revived litigiousness. Last week, ad server 24/7 Real Media said it acquired another ad-serving patent it planned to enforce. At the same time, E-centives said it had filed a patent suit against rival Coupons Inc.

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