Can You Patent Scamming Energy Customers?
from the we-may-find-out dept
Back in February, we pointed out that the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) is gearing up to hear a very important case, In re Bilski, that could change the patentability of software and patents. There’s likely to be a flurry of news about this case in the near future, as lots of folks are expected to file their own briefs in the case. However, Joe Mullin has turned up a separate, but somewhat related story that shows how the “business model” in question may have been about bilking customers. The patent application that’s being discussed has to do with a method for trading weather risk, which the company put into practice by offering billing solutions for various energy companies. Unfortunately for the company, the state of Minnesota discovered that those billing solutions seriously overcharged customers who were convinced to sign up. In the case of one energy company, customers who signed up for this “service” ended up paying almost $700 extra.
The link above has the whole convoluted story, but basically, Bilski’s company, Weatherwise, would set up call centers for energy companies and then promote special “fixed price” plans, though the methodology for setting those prices is kept a secret (even from the energy companies). Weatherwise itself isn’t actually being investigated, as it’s not regulated by the state, but the Attorney General of Minnesota is exploring whether or not energy companies basically outsourced to Weatherwise in order to boost rates outside of the state’s regulations. Either way, the two separate issues probably won’t overlap much, other than that Weatherwise’s CEO is complaining about how both cases represent attempts to stifle the firms’ “creativity.”