Morningstar faces Internet espionage suit

Morningstar faces Internet espionage suit

NewRiver, a US software provider to the brokerage industry, has filed a lawsuit against Morningstar, alleging the investment research provider unlawfully accessed its Web-based data warehouse.

According to a suit filed in Massachusetts state court yesterday, Morningstar is accused of tapping into NewRiver's proprietary Prospectus Express online data warehouse in order to compete unfairly.

The NewRiver service provides investor access to an online library of compliance documents for open-end mutual fund, variable annuity, and variable life product sold in the US.

NewRiver accuses Morningstar of deploying "screen-scraping" technology to copy tens of thousands of documents between May and December last year, before offering its services to NewRiver customers at cheaper rates.

The database is not password-protected, with customers instead accessing it through a "secret" Web address.

In the suit, NewRiver says it was in talks in spring 2008 about a possible takeover from Morningstar.

A Morningstar spokeswoman told reporters the firm had accessed the database but only for "benchmarking". The spokeswoman told Reuters that Morningstar thinks the suit is designed purely to discourage competition from its own service, which launched late last year.

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