What Steps Should You Take to Minimize the Risk of Patent Infringement Suits?

By Tracy Kitten

Patent infringement lawsuits are a growing concern for banking institutions. More and more community banks are being hit, and it’s a growing concern because of emerging technology. 

Several stories—including Patent Lawsuits Target Eight Banks and 5 Banks Sued for Patent Infringementhave revealed contractual challenges for smaller institutions.  

The primary challenge: community banks and credit unions need indemnification provisions in the contracts they sign with third-party service providers and other vendors.

The recent onslaught of patent infringement lawsuits against these institutions has raised new awareness about the need for indemnification clauses. Under such clauses, vendors are liable for infringement if a suit over a patent succeeds.

Sadly, few community and regional institutions have taken necessary steps to ensure their contracts include those provisions, and that has opened the door for payouts when patent-holding companies file infringement suits against those institutions.

Now, those community and regional institutions are asking for help. And regulators and banking associations have roles to play in ensuring these smaller institutions are educated about their patent rights and their vendors’ liabilities.

Many of these lawsuits, filed by patent-holding companies more commonly known as patent trolls, are slamming banks and credit unions for their use of mandated and/or regulated technology and services. How can they be liable for infringing patents linked to technologies they are required to deploy?

But community institutions are not equipped to defend themselves when a patent-holding company claims infringement. So instead of litigating, like larger institutions, they often just agree to pay a royalty or settle—and the fees are getting increasingly expensive.

Smaller banks and credit unions have been voicing concerns to regulators, and regulators are listening. But it’s hard to know what role, if any, regulators should play in helping to protect the institutions they oversee.

“So many community banks are being hit, and it’s a growing concern because of emerging technology,” says one banking executive, who asked not to be named.

As banks and credit unions invest in emerging security technologies, such as stronger authentication, transaction encryption, device identification and biometrics, their chances of being sued over some type of patent infringement increases.

This is why community banks and credit unions need to follow the lead of larger institutions and make sure that they’re protected by indemnification provisions in the contracts they sign with security vendors.

Rash of Infringement Suits

In recent months, the industry has seen patent-holding companies target institutions in certain states, demanding they pay fees for using technology to comply with a specific security mandate, such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard.

Steps have been taken at the state level in an attempt to curb some of these lawsuits. In May, Vermont’s Attorney General sued MPHJ Technology, a Delaware-based patent-holding company, alleging that the company engaged in unfair and deceptive acts under Vermont’s Consumer Protection Act. The complaint alleges that MPHJ sent deceptive letters to Vermont businesses, including banking institutions, claiming they had infringed on patents held by MPHJ and, in some cases, demanded thousands of dollars were owed for the infringement.

In July, Nebraska’s attorney general ordered Texas-based law firm Farney Daniels PC, which is representing MPHJ, to stop sending letters to Nebraska businesses claiming patent infringement. The state argued that the letters violate its consumer protection laws.

Tracy Kitten is the executive editor of BankInfoSecurity & CUInfoSecurity. Her story was reprinted in the InfoSight Compliance eNewsletter.

 

Questions? Contact the Compliance Hotline: 1.800.546.4465, compliance@nwcua.org.

Posted in Compliance.