Over the years USAA has aggressively asserted its patent portfolio related to check depositing. Specifically, USAA holds itself out as an innovator in the research and development of allowing banking customers to deposit paper checks into accounts using smartphones. USAA’s most recent patent action is against Wells Fargo where it asserts its patents related to depositing checks using smartphones. USAA has asserted four patents against Wells Fargo, including: US 8,699,779 (‘779), US 9,336,517 (‘517), US 9,818,090 (‘090), and US 8,977,571 (‘571).
USAA’s complaint indicates that the ‘779 and ‘517 patents generally relate to the use of alignment guides to increase efficiency and performance of remote check deposit systems, and the ‘090 and ‘571 patents generally relate to monitoring specific features of a check to increase efficiency and performance of remote check deposit systems. In its own banking systems, USAA has implemented the use of these patents in, for example, “Deposit@Home®” and Deposit@Mobile®. Deposit@Home® allowed USAA’s banking customers to deposit individual checks in real-time using a consumer imaging device. Deposit@Mobile® expanded on the success of Deposit@Home® by allowing customers to deposited checks using the camera of a mobile device to take a photograph of a check.
Interestingly, while all these patents relate to check depositing, none overlap with the patents USAA previously asserted against Mitek. Back in 2012, USAA filed a suit against Mitek – a technology company focused on mobile capture and identity verification software solutions – a direct competitor. USAA filed its suit based, in part, on Mitek’s technology allowing people to deposit checks via mobile phones. After several years of litigation, a few days before trial, USAA and Mitek settled the matter.
Wells Fargo also provides a remote deposit capture for its customers – Wells Fargo Mobile® that allows customers to deposit checks using mobile devices. In its complaint, USAA alleges that the Wells Fargo Mobile® deposit system improperly uses USAA’s “pioneering efforts in mobile deposit technologies.” Specifically, USAA points to check alignment guides and feedback indicators that assist customers in orienting the camera to take high-quality, legible photographs during mobile deposits using Wells Fargo’s deposit system. Allegations of infringement of the ‘517 and ‘571 patents include server side implementation and allegations of the ‘779 and ‘090 patents appear to be mostly client side. For the ‘517 patent, USAA points to Wells Fargo Mobile® deposit system that includes an app on a mobile device that generates alignment guides and monitors check features to capture an image of the check which is then transmitted to a server. For the ‘571 patent, USAA points to Wells Fargo Mobile® deposit system that receives at a server a request to access a deposit system such that an image of a check is received and processed to deposit funds from the check into an account.
USAA purportedly approached Wells Fargo in August 2017 to discuss the alleged use of USAA’s patents by Wells Fargo. However, nothing came from the talks and Wells Fargo continued to offer its mobile deposit system. The Wells Fargo Mobile® has been downloaded millions of times from the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. As such, along with its infringement assertions, USAA alleges willful infringement by Wells Fargo, an allegation with the potential to allow treble damages to be collected.
It will be interesting to watch the progression of this matter as most (if not all) banks now offer some form of mobile banking that allows for depositing checks. USAA, as an early developer of mobile deposit systems, appears to hold a plethora of patents it can assert based on its actions against Mitek and Wells Fargo. More broadly, banks and financial institutions are turning more and more to cutting edge technologies like AI and cloud computing to provide innovative solutions to their customers. Wells Fargo itself touts five technologies for the future of banking. Patent actions like those from USAA may just be the beginning of the challenges the financial services industry will face as it continues to embrace new technology frameworks.