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For Two Big Political Software Firms, A Cessation of Courtroom Hostilities

BY Nick Judd | Friday, September 23 2011

The years-long false advertising lawsuit between Aristotle and NGP VAN came to a close earlier this month when U.S. District Court Judge Thomas F. Hogan dismissed actions brought by both sides.

In a memorandum released earlier this week, Hogan provided a detailed summary of the whole case — in so doing, shining a light on usually confidential tricks of the software trade, like white-label agreements allowing one firm to sell as their own brand the work of another — and sent both firms on their way. I've uploaded the memo to Scribd for your reading pleasure, if reading civil suits is your thing; you can find it here.

The long-drawn-out legal battle stems from Aristotle and NGP, before its 2010 merger with the voter file purveyor VAN, competing for business from campaigns and organizations looking for software to manage their compliance with Federal Elections Commission regulations. Aristotle initially argued that NGP, founded by the same man who went on to serve as chief technology officer for Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential bid, was untruthful when it advertised itself as providing software exclusively to Democrats; NGP later brought a countersuit alleging that Aristotle made false claims about the left-leaning firm in some of its own material.

"[Aristotle CEO John Phillips and [NGP founder Nathaniel Pearlman] built their competitive and successful companies from the ground up. For that they should be congratulated," Hogan wrote in the conclusion to his 43-page memorandum, unsealed Sept. 21. "Unfortunately, the competitive fight between them has become so bitter and vigorous that it has spilled out of the marketplace onto the field of the courtroom."

But neither side did enough to prove its claims against the other, the judge found.

In comments this week, both Aristotle's Phillips and NGP's president, Stu Trevelyan, sought to paint the opposing company as the loser of the court case — and both said they were glad to put this case behind them.

"It's taken up some time and money I wish we hadn't wasted," Trevelyan said yesterday.

"It's not my favorite topic to talk about, but I'm glad to put it behind us," he added later on in the conversation.

"We intend to focus our energies on continuing to improve, innovate and compete," Phillips said in a statement emailed by an Aristotle spokeswoman. "We are excited to move on from this and focus on the upcoming elections."