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By Jason Cato
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
The world of online bond auctions once again can call Pittsburgh home after a federal judge on Tuesday doubled penalties against a Wall Street company to nearly $85 million and ordered it to stop infringing on the software patent rights of a Downtown firm.
The Grant Street Group, a privately held company with a patent for auctioning government bonds over the Internet, won a jury verdict in October that included a $38.4 million judgment against Thomson Corp. and i-Deal.
U.S. District Judge Gary L. Lancaster yesterday doubled that amount to $76.96 million and included $7.66 million more in interest.
Lancaster could have tripled the jury's original judgment, and the Grant Street Group asked him to increase the award to $115.4 million.
"I don't know that it makes them feel 100 percent whole, but it's a good feeling," said Sally Wiggins, a Chicago lawyer hired by the Grant Street Group. "The jury first believed in them, and now the judge has shown that he also believes in them."
Thomson will appeal Lancaster's decision, spokesman Joe Christinat said.
The Grant Street Group, then operating under the name MuniAuction, developed software to sell municipal bonds online. In November 1997, the city of Pittsburgh was the first to use the service, which costs $10,000.
In 1998, Thomson and i-Deal began offering a similar service for free. A federal lawsuit was filed in Pittsburgh in 2001.
Thomson sold off its municipal-fund platform more than five years ago, Christinat said.
Though a jury sided with the Pittsburgh company last year, i-Deal in New York still has not stopped offering its service. Lancaster said that was a factor in increasing damages.
"There is no dispute that (the Grant Street Group) was the first to conduct municipal bond auctions over the Internet," Lancaster wrote in his 35-page opinion made available yesterday. "Defendants started infringing the patent the day that it was issued more than six years ago and continue to do so today,"
Thomson Corp. has 32,000 employees, and its 2006 revenues were $6.6 billion. Westlaw, TradeWeb and Fast-Tax are among the company's dozens of products.
The Grant Street Group has 34 employees and several thousand clients, cofounder and executive vice president Dan Veres said.
He called Thomson "a Goliath" that caused major financial ramifications within his company. The judge's award means a lot, Veres said.
"It vindicates the jury's decision," he said.
Jason Cato can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7840.