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Minneapolis-based FICO loses jury trial in bragging-rights battle over credit scores

A battle for bragging rights over which company’s credit-scoring system counts the most went against Minneapolis-based FICO (formerly Fair Isaac). The case brought by FICO claimed trademark infringement and unfair competition by Experian, TransUnion and VantageScore Solutions, but a Minneapolis jury found in favor of the defendants.

Last summer, the court had dismissed anti-trust and false advertising claims brought by FICO and Friday’s jury verdict seems to hand a clean sweep victory to the defendants.

As consumers gained more access to their credit reports for free under a congressional mandate five years ago, the credit reports did not include the all-important numerical score, considered by lenders in making credit decision. Credit rating agencies and other companies jumped into the gap and began positioning themselves as authoritative sources where consumers could purchase the numerical credit scores.

The core controversy revolves around differing claims about the competing scores. While the FICO score is viewed as a close proximity to the scoring model that lenders use to evaluate the consumer, the FICO number is not the exact score lenders use because they add their own risk factors into the basic FICO score.

“Today’s verdict is a victory for Experian and for American consumers,” said Kerry Williams, group president of credit services and decision analytics at Experian, in a press release. (PDF) “By preventing FICO from further stifling competition in the marketplace, the jury’s decision will increase consumer choice in credit scoring. FICO’s trademark claim was the last vestige of a fundamentally meritless case, whose simple goal was to eliminate competition to FICO’s credit scores.”

FICO has long maintained that advertising and other tactics used by Experian, TransUnion and VantageScore Solutions deliberately confuse consumers into purchasing their credit scores under the false belief that they are FICO scores, or that the scores they buy from these companies are used by their lenders to make credit decisions.

“This case is about two things: fairness and consumer protection,” said Mark Greene, chief executive officer at FICO, in its press release. “While we’re disappointed by this jury’s verdict, we remain confident in the validity of our claims. At a time when consumers most need clarity regarding their creditworthiness, it’s imperative that they understand whether the credit scores they purchase are FICO scores, which are used by most lenders to make decisions, or merely lookalike scores not actually used by lenders to make lending decisions.”

FICO will file post-trial motions, but should the jury verdict stand, FICO said it plans to appeal.

The company had previously said it would appeal dismissal of false advertising and anti-trust claims.

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