Tele-Publishing Inc. (TPI), the largest provider of voice personals, filed suit earlier this month against the alternative newspaper chain News & Review, alleging patent infringement. Sacramento News & Review, the chain’s flagship paper, recently began using SelectAlternatives (SA), a competing personals business that, according to the suit, uses processes patented by TPI.
Andrew Sutcliffe of Sutcliffe Associates launched SelectAlternatives in January 2004, about six years after leaving TPI, where he was the company’s founding president. In September 2004, his former employer sued him for patent infringement. Also named in the suit were AAN member papers Chicago Reader, Washington City Paper, The Stranger, Illinois Times, City Newspaper and Salt Lake City Weekly — all of which used Sutcliffe’s service. All but Illinois Times continued to use SA after the suit was filed.
The original suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. TPI’s suit against News & Review was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.
“This case has no merit,” says Jeff vonKaenel, President and CEO of News & Review. While he was aware of the original lawsuit when he signed up for SA, he says: “I didn’t think [TPI] would sue us, because it made no sense. It still makes no sense.”
Sacramento News & Review — the only News & Review paper presently using the service — isn’t utilizing SA’s “voice” features. Of the four patents at issue in the original suit filed in Arizona, two are for process relating to such features. News & Review is being sued for infringement of the other two patents.
In an email sent earlier this week, TPI President David Dinnage told clients that the company “had no choice but to institute a lawsuit” after it determined that News & Review’s “more limited usage of the SA system also infringed on our patents.” Dinnage also said that TPI would prefer not to “engage in such legal actions” but warned that it would be forced to sue “any others who choose to use the SA system before the courts ultimately adjudicate” the patent issues.