RealTime IT News

DOJ Trustbusters Look Into Pitney Patent Claims

Following two lawsuits against online stamp service rivals, the Department of Justice's antitrust division has launched an inquiry into anticompetitive conduct by postage meter company Pitney Bowes.

Pitney and Stamps.com late last week were served a civil investigative demand for documentation in several areas, regarding possible "exclusionary conduct by a monopolist aimed at interfering with the entry of potential competitors." The inquiry named postage meters and online postage services as the markets under investigation.

Stamps.com Monday said it would comply with the inquiry and simultaneously announced plans to fight the upcoming lawsuit over alleged violations of two Pitney patents related to postage application systems and electronic indicia.

Pitney is in a stand-off with two companies to which it claims to have offered licensing deals before following up with the lawsuits. E-Stamp has also said it will contest the allegations.

"Once again, the Internet changes everything," said John M. Payne, president and CEO of Stamps.com. "This is a classic case where an industry is turned upside down as traditional manufactured products can be replaced by low cost services available widely over the national infrastructure of the Internet. We do not believe the Pitney Bowes lawsuit has any merit and we intend to aggressively defend our position."

E-Stamp beat Pitney to the test market, winning the first approval from the U.S. Postal Service to explore products which download stamp software off the Internet for computer printout. Stamps.com is in the third and final phase of market testing.

Pitney has identified 19 U.S. patents and four U.S. patent applications that it said would be infringed by postage metering systems which meet the requirements of the USPS's Information Based Indicia Program for electronic access to postage, according to Stamps.com.