A Portland, Ore.-based company that sued two multiple listing service software vendors for patent infringement has lost a two-year court battle, with a U.S. District Court Judge dismissing its claim against one of the vendors and invalidating the patent in question.

CollegeNET Inc. filed suit against MarketLinx Inc. and Rapattoni Corp. in July 2009 claiming the companies had infringed on a 2005 patent governing an automated system for sending predetermined messages to website users based on information entered into a template.

In its complaint, CollegeNET said it held a total of seven patents on Web-based technologies used by more than 1,300 higher education and nonprofit institutions "to save money, improve operational efficiency, reduce environmental impacts and enhance communications."

CollegeNET said it had already "vigorously enforced its patents" in lawsuits against direct competitors, but that the company’s technology was now "being exploited beyond the walls of academia."

In a subsequent filing, CollegeNET claimed MarketLinx and Rapattoni had used the patent "to provide real estate organizations with tools to conditionally message (sales prospects) with specified messages when real estate listings posted on electronic forms are matched to combinations of attributes of real estate sought by buyers through Web-based templates."

MarketLinx and Rapattoni denied the allegations. Attorneys for the companies said the CollegeNET patent at issue related to "a very simple automatic notification system," allowing colleges or other institutions to respond when users entered information into a form matched predetermined criteria. The system was used by colleges to respond when applicants post information about themselves that match the college’s selected criteria, they said.

CollegeNET’s patent had survived a re-examination, but attorneys for MarketLinx and Rapattoni maintained that the Patent Office hadn’t looked at "prior art" systems developed before CollegeNET’s patent was issued.

Although Rapattoni ended up settling with CollegeNET in September 2010, MarketLinx pursued a counterclaim seeking a ruling that it had not infringed on CollegeNET’s U.S. Patent  6,910,045, and to invalidate the patent.

After more than two years of litigation, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks in a Nov. 8 ruling invalidated six of the claims made by CollegeNET in its patent application, agreeing that "prior art" established in two previously issued patents made CollegeNET’s claimed innovations "obvious" and not patentable.

The two previous patents, Sparks ruled, "demonstrate that the subject matter of the asserted claims of the (CollegeNET) patent — user interfaces using web forms and web templates, automated message delivery and notification, and data comparison (particularly via traditional database searches) … would have been obvious to a person of ordinary skill in the art at the time the claimed invention was made."

Sparks threw out CollegeNET’s claims against MarketLinx and ordered the company to pay all costs of the lawsuit.

"Others have tried and failed to invalidate CollegeNET’s patent, but we were confident in the strength of the evidence upon which our prior art argument was based, and the courts agreed with us," said Ben Graboske, CEO of CoreLogic MarketLinx, in a statement. "MarketLinx prevailed in large part due to the expert knowledge possessed by our long-tenured and talented team members in addition to our decades-long focus on innovation."

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