International communications giant WPP used its position on the board of TRA Global, an upstart market research company, to filch proprietary information from the firm so it could become a direct competitor, according to a federal claim filed on Tuesday.
“While copying is the sincerest form of flattery and certainly validates TRA’s solution, we will always protect our shareholders’ investment in our proprietary technology and patents even when the wrongdoer is at the hands of a supposed ‘friend,'" said Mark Lieberman, the company’s CEO, in a statement.
The court action comes as a counter-claim to a suit filed last month by WPP subsidiary Kantar Media Audiences that requested a federal judge determine if their product, Rapid-view Retail, is a direct rip-off of TRA’s Media TRAnalytics.
Both products take data on television viewing habits and combine it with consumer behavior to allow TV advertisers to better focus their ad dollars.
TRA’s product is patented, Kantar’s is not, according to the suit.
Lieberman’s company is asking a federal judge to block the London-based WPP, which also owns the Grey Group, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, and other ad firms, from selling its product until the dispute has been settled.
According to the complaint, the U.K. company has invested $3.7 million in TRA since it was founded in 2007 and began to covet the New York city research company's methodology after its own products proved unsuccessful.
“WPP/KANTAR on more than one occasion has sought, unsuccessfully, to control TRA,” Lieberman charged in an affidavit.
In addition to the patent infringement claim in the suit, the U.S. company says that WPP used the information that it received through being an investor and board member to reverse engineer its product.
In the suit, Lieberman also says that the British company, which reports revenue of $15 billion a year, had an obligation to resign from the board when it knew it was developing a similar product.
"WPP has been a trusted partner, investor, board member, licensee, and vendor for over three years, so we were shocked that they would launch a directly competing product that infringes our patent and then decided to resort to the courts for resolution,” said Lieberman in a statement.
He said TRA, which started with $36 million investment capital, has spent $20 million on research and development and over 60,000 man-hours to develop their product. They count CBS, Mars, and A&E channels as clients.
WPP declined to comment.