Ad Effectiveness Patent Battle Brews - comScore Sues DoubleVerify, Moat, AdSafe

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Online measurement company comScore is taking the patent battle to three smaller analytics companies focused on ad effectiveness solutions: DoubleVerify, AdSafe Media and Moat. The new lawsuits use what appears to be at least four of the same patents comScore acquired rights to when it was sued by, and settled with, measurement giant Nielsen in 2011 (original suit here; settlement press release here).

DoubleVerify CEO Oren Netzer told AdExchanger that his company would have no comment until formally receiving the details of the suit. A Moat spokesperson said, "Our talented team of computer scientists, physicists, mathematicians, and designers, work long and hard inventing solutions to solve some of the biggest challenges in our industry. We take our commitment to innovation very seriously and while we will vigorously defend ourselves, we remain focused on serving our clients and creating new ways to improve the digital landscape." ComScore and AdSafe Media did not provide a comment in time for publication for this article.

The court filings were made in Virginia on June 25 and July 20 (see below) for patents that date as far back as 2000.

Beyond halting the alleged infringement of its intellectual property, it would seem that comScore is betting on one of two outcomes: the startups will settle quickly after considering the cost of the potential litigation; or, the startups will participate in a defense that could not only deplete them of valuable cash against a much larger opponent, but distract them from their future product plans. Of course, if the startups do settle quickly, are they hamstrung going forward? UPDATE: Also, as an industry insider points out, if comScore loses this lawsuit, it would invalidate the company's patent infringement strategy and could speak more broadly about the efficacy of software patents for rapidly innovating Internet tools and services businesses.

Not to be lost in the noise here is that Nielsen made an online ad effectiveness acquisition with Vizu earlier this month. If Vizu was still a private, separate company, perhaps it could have been swept up into comScore's patent litigation strategy.

ComScore has been playing [Wall] street-smart hardball with the ad verifiers for at least a year. It acquired ad verification company AdXpose in August 2011 even though the company was considered by some to be the weakest of the three ad verification players. With AdXpose's sales price publicly announced at $22 million (nearly the same amount as the total capital raised by AdXpose in its history), this may have effectively limited the exit potential - and, perhaps, growth potential - for the two larger, better funded companies similar to the way demand-side platform (DSP) Invite Media's acquisition by Google in 2010 for ~$80 million may have hamstrung the exits for other DSPs.

From a piece in March 2011 by paidContent's Joe Mullen, Mullen quoted a Nielsen spokeswoman about their lawsuit against comScore saying "The company has made 'substantial' investments in its intellectual property, adding: 'While we support vigorous competition in the marketplace, that competition must be fair and respect intellectual property rights. Nielsen does not take such matters lightly and only after thorough analysis and consideration did we file this action.'" comScore would likely sing a similar tune today.

Patent litigation - particularly software patents - is increasingly frowned upon by the public Internet as Yahoo! was roundly criticized by a cross-section of opinion leaders when it decided to sue Facebook for alleged, multiple abuses of its patent portfolio under the direction of former Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson. And yet, public Internet companies still watch and manage their patent interests closely (witness Microsoft/Aol/Facebook in April). The Yahoo!-Facebook patent battle was quickly settled earlier this month towards the end of Yahoo! interim CEO Ross Levinsohn's brief tenure.

Next stop on comScore's patent litigation warpath could be attribution analytics companies that are working on a form of ad effectiveness - companies such as C3 Metrics, Ebay's Clearsaleing, Visual IQ, Adometry, Encore Media Metrics and others. How about Google and Facebook, too?

Breaking Out The Patents

Below, I've included a breakout of which patents are named in these new suits that were part of Nielsen's original complaint against comScore in 2011.   Does this make Nielsen a part of this round of litigation?  Not by name in the complaints. Read them in their entirety at the bottom.

  • DoubleVerify - sued for infringement of 5 patents (complaint uses 2 of the original 5 Nielsen patents)
  • AdSafe Media - sued for infringement of 8 patents (4 of original 5 Nielsen patents)
  • Moat - sued for infringement of 7 patents (3 of original 5 Nielsen patents)

comScore v. DoubleVerify

comScore v. AdSafe Media

comScore v. Moat

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