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Financial Accounting Standards Board Sued Over Rights To Commenter’s Thoughts

Posted  May 18, 2010

A small economics and software company is charging the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) – the organization that sets accounting standards for every public company in the country – with attempting to misappropriate its intellectual property in the standard setting process.

Silicon Economics, Inc. (SEI) has filed a complaint in federal court in the Northern District of California that charges that FASB illegally claimed possession of SEI’s accounting patents, in violation of Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act, as well as California contract and competition law.

SEI’s complaint states that in 2006, it offered advice to FASB on how to enhance its accounting methods.  SEI claims that FASB’s current methods fail to properly account for one-off spikes and losses in companies’ income, and therefore FASB’s method “has served as a significant contributor to the current economic crisis.”  SEI asserts that it discovered only after offering up its thoughts that FASB’s web site asserts that FASB has ownership rights to any of thoughts it received, which in this case include SEI’s patent.  SEI asserts that it did not know of the terms when it disclosed its ideas, and that FASB’s attempts to enforce them violate antitrust law.

Specifically, SEI claims that FASB controls over 90 percent of the market for “financial accounting standards in the United States,” and, as a result, that FASB is a “government-backed monopoly.”  By insisting on its right to appropriate the information given to it, according to SEI, FASB has abused its market power in violation of Section 2 of the Sherman Act.  FASB’s action also violates Section 1 of the Sherman Act, according to SEI, because the disclosure terms of FASB’s web site constitute an agreement in restraint of trade.  SEI has filed for a preliminary injunction against FASB, and additionally seeks a permanent injunction, treble-economic damages, punitive damages, and costs and attorneys fees.

FASB’s spokesperson declined to offer any substantive comment, stating that “It’s a legal matter, and our policy is not to comment on it.”

Tagged in: Intellectual Property Law and Antitrust, Monopolization,