In the War on Credit Scores, FICO Loses a Battle
The use of credit scoring is vital to the mortgage underwriting process. However, behind the scenes, a war is raging over who can lay claim to that process, with one party recently losing ground in the courtroom. The Fair Isaac Corp. (FICO) was denied a new trial regarding what it claims is clearly its trademark; that is, the act of rating an individual's credit on a scale of 300 to 850. However, VantageScore Solutions, the credit rating provider created by America’s three major credit reporting companies — Equifax (EFX), Experian and TransUnion — successfully argued that its system that rates credit on a scale between 501 to 990, is not in violation of the FICO trademark. The presiding US district judge in Minnesota, Ann Montgomery, went a step further and called for FICO's trademark to be invalidated in her verdict. In her decision, Montgomery addressed the jury’s finding stating, “Indeed, the jury’s verdict was a wholesale, unambiguous rejection of Fair Isaac’s central theory of the case — i.e., that one can legitimately claim trademark protection in the numerical range for credit scores.” VantageScore Solutions CEO Barrett Burns said that the court’s decision confirms its longstanding allegation that FICO’s claims are "meritless," and "at every step, VantageScore has prevailed against Fair Isaac’s claims." "Should FICO appeal, we remain confident we will prevail there too,” Burns said. And FICO has the full intention of appealing, according to Craig Watts, a director of public affairs at Fair Issac. As to be expected, he said that FICO strongly disagrees with Montgomery's verdict. Watts added that the basic tenants of the case surround fairness and consumer protection, not against the numerical methodology for presenting that value, especially as it pertains to the sale of those scores to mortgage lenders, for example. "Nothing has changed as a result of this order," he said, "the defendants have not been held accountable for copying what it took FICO 20 years to build; and consumers will continue to be victims of big-budget ad campaigns that trick them into buying knock-off scores that they think are the genuine FICO scores lenders use to make decisions." Write to Jacob Gaffney. Disclosure: the author holds no relevant investments.