NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- A Delaware firm has filed a lawsuit against JWT and parent WPP, claiming the ad agency stole its patented product-placement concept to use in a campaign for Bing, the new search engine from Microsoft.
Denizen, which calls itself an "innovator in advertising" for its method of "program-integrated advertisement," says in its suit that starting in 2002 it was in contact with London-based WPP and top executives at the holding company such as Mark Read and Peter Tortorici to discuss possible business ventures, including partnerships with WPP's media agencies.
Those talks fell through in late 2006, but Denizen said it had entered into a confidentiality agreement with WPP. The company is now alleging that WPP breached the confidentiality agreement and that JWT stole Denizen's technique of blending a TV show's content and characters into advertising, in this case for NBC's "The Philanthropist."
Commercials for Bing were filmed on-set using actors from the show, which made its debut this summer and stars James Purefoy and Neve Campbell. The Bing-themed ads appeared between the TV programming and regular commercial breaks.
Microsoft called on JWT to handle the estimated $100 million Bing ad account earlier this year as part of the software giant's quest to gain market share from search behemoth Google.
"WPP intends to solicit customers by continuing to use Denizen's proprietary, trade secret information to solicit customers for WPP and its affiliates," the company wrote in its complaint, which was filed in a Delaware court and names JWT and WPP as defendants. Denizen says the ad agency and holding company not only stole its trade secrets for creating integrated ads -- which include strategies for obtaining Screen Actors Guild contracts, methods for gaining access or rights to TV program content and ways to shoot the ads -- but also made them publicly known due to the number of parties involved in the Bing campaign.
Representatives for JWT were not aware of the suit and could not immediately comment, while representatives for WPP did not immediately return calls. Denizen's law firm, Stamoulis & Weinblatt, didn't call back immediately either.
Denizen claims its business has been damaged and it has suffered a loss of potential customers. The company didn't state a dollar figure but said it is seeking compensatory damages and punitive damages because it claims WPP's acts were "malicious and willful." Denizen also wants restitution for legal fees, investigative costs and any profits JWT gained from creating the campaign.