NEWS3 August 2011

Kantar denies ‘stealing’ TRA secrets during merger talks

Legal News North America

US— WPP’s research division Kantar has denied that it stole trade secrets from ad ROI researcher TRA while the two businesses were in talks about the possibility of a buyout.

A judge in New York’s Southern District Court has now told the companies to try to resolve their increasingly bitter dispute through mediation.

TRA, whose Media TRAnalytics service links viewing habits to purchase behaviour, says that Kantar took advantage of information it had shared as part of discussions of a “strategic relationship or acquisition”. It claims that Kantar’s RapidView service, launched earlier this year, competes directly with Media TRAnalytics and breaches one of its patents.

According to TRA, Kantar never revealed that it was working on a rival service, even as TRA was sharing secret details of its patented solution with the firm’s executives.

In a counterclaim filed yesterday, Kantar denies breaching agreements, stealing trade secrets and infringing TRA’s patent for a process for “analysing return on investment of advertising campaigns by matching multiple data sources”.

The two firms used to get on fine – WPP is an investor in TRA and has a seat on its board, while Kantar supplies it with the sales information that is combined with TV viewing data to fuel Media TRAnalytics.

Court documents reveal that the firms first discussed the possibility of an acquisition not long after TRA launched its service in 2008, although each party claims that the talks were initiated by the other. Discussions of “collaboration and synergies” continued until at least last year – including a meeting with Kantar CEO Eric Salama – but no deal was struck.

The dispute came to court in June this year when Kantar asked a New York judge to declare that it had not breached TRA’s patent. TRA hit back with a counterclaim, and CEO Mark Lieberman (pictured) said he was shocked by the actions of its “supposed friend”, which had been a partner, investor, board member and supplier for several years.

TRA also alleges that Kantar’s Bill Lederer asked TRA’s software supplier to build “a knockoff” of TRA’s solution (a tactic that it says “did not work”), and that Lederer encouraged one potential investor to stay away from TRA in an attempt to “starve” the company so that Kantar could buy it “on the cheap”. Kantar denies these allegations.