Contact Us
News

Xceligent Files Antitrust Suit Against CoStar, Alleges Years Of Anticompetitive Behavior

UPDATE, JUNE 28 8 P.M. ETThis story has been updated to include CoStar's response to Xceligent's countersuit.

Commercial property data firm Xceligent filed an antitrust countersuit against The CoStar Group Wednesday, alleging the $9B, Washington, D.C.-based data giant has created a monopoly and engaged in years of anticompetitive behavior.

Xceligent Files Antitrust Suit Against CoStar, Alleges Years Of Anticompetitive Behavior

Xceligent filed the 139-page counterclaim in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri after months of silence following an intellectual property theft lawsuit from CoStar. Xceligent accuses CoStar of employing internet blocks and data alteration practices to prevent its users from sharing their property information with its competitors.

Xceligent also accuses CoStar of violating restrictions the Federal Trade Commission placed on the company in 2012 to keep it from becoming a monopoly.

CoStar founder and CEO Andrew Florance has claimed Xceligent is engaging in a systematic effort to steal and resell his company’s proprietary images and data, its most valuable assets, while Xceligent views the lawsuit as the latest in a string of attempts by CoStar to dismantle its competition in the courts.

The legal battle, kicked off in December 2016, could determine not only the fate of the two companies, but also the future of how information on commercial property — the single-biggest investment asset class in the United States — is shared.

In an extensive interview with Bisnow in mid-June, Xceligent CEO Doug Curry said that he is relieved that he can now publicly address the future of his company and its ongoing legal battle with the largest real estate data firm in the world.

“This is probably the most aggressive and litigious CEO in our industry’s history, ever, and we finally have the ability to let the industry know, ‘We’re coming back at you just as aggressively as you come at the industry,’” Curry said in the exclusive interview at Xceligent’s Manhattan office.

“Game on,” Curry said.

Wednesday evening, CoStar issued a response to Xceligent's countersuit through its strategic communications firm, Joele Frank, Wilkinson Brimmer Katcher:

"Xceligent’s lawsuit is meritless, ignoring facts and lacking any credible argument against CoStar. Xceligent’s efforts to make this about broker provided content and broker websites is contradicted by the facts. This is about industrial scale theft orchestrated by Xceligent in the U.S. and abroad. Xceligent’s blatantly illegal conduct was systematic and carried out at the direction of management. We look forward to our day in court. We are confident that a full airing of the facts at trial will prove Xceligent’s business plan is driven by the theft of CoStar’s content and that at all times CoStar has acted lawfully."

Doug Curry Xceligent
Xceligent CEO Doug Curry at REBNY's annual banquet in January

For nearly two decades, CoStar has maintained a dominant perch as the gatekeeper for information on the country’s estimated $17 trillion commercial real estate industry. Xceligent’s countersuit claims CoStar’s methods of keeping its market share have harmed the industry, which touches investors from Saudi Arabian royalty to U.S. teachers who invest in pension funds.

CoStar tracks about 5 million properties across 368 markets worldwide, and its products, which include LoopNet and Apartments.com, draw 24 million monthly unique visitors, according to its website. Real estate professionals have come to rely on the platform for their day-to-day operations.

“From a pure broker perspective, it’s crucial,” said JLL Senior Vice President Andy O’Brien, one of the top tenant brokers for tech companies in CoStar’s home city of Washington. “We can’t do our job without it.”

The company’s impact is felt well beyond the tens of thousands of brokers with CoStar’s website bookmarked on their browsers. From an apartment hunter to a shop owner leasing a storefront to an entrepreneur looking for an office to grow a startup, millions of people around the world who may not have heard of CoStar still depend on the accuracy and timeliness of its information.

Xceligent claims CoStar’s history of buying out its competition and using aggressive legal action represents a pattern of behavior intended to create a monopoly on commercial property data, handcuffing the industry to its services, which can cost thousands of dollars a month.

"When we speak to clients and prospects, we hear universal concern around CoStar's business practices,” said CompStak founder Michael Mandel, whose company generates lease comparisons.

CoStar sued four CompStak users in 2014 for improperly uploading CoStar data.

“Quite frankly, the industry views CoStar as a monopoly that takes advantage of the fact that it's a monopoly day in and day out,” Mandel said.

Xceligent claims CoStar manipulates data points to claim ownership of large swaths of contributed information, deceiving its users in the process. CoStar revealed in its initial complaint that it uses an algorithm to change data values as a way to spot copyright violations, but Xceligent alleges the altered information instead represents a way to prevent brokers from sharing property information with CoStar’s competitors. Curry warns that changing building stats could also impact companies' real estate decisions.

Xceligent’s lawsuit also includes allegations that CoStar has blocked Xceligent employees from viewing its public listings, attempted to prevent brokers from sharing images with its competitors, improperly bundled its services to prevent users from canceling and made defamatory statements about Xceligent.  

“We’re filing a countersuit, and we intend to take it all the way and prosecute CoStar for the actions of the last 20 years,” Curry said. “This is about [CoStar] trying to create a legal block from any company in the United States’ ability to receive information on property records for a third of the U.S. inventory ever again. And that, obviously, we intend to stop.”

Xceligent is seeking monetary damages and is asking the court to prohibit CoStar from engaging in the anticompetitive practices it details in the suit.

Since 1999, CoStar has filed at least 32 lawsuits against 28 different entities, most alleging copyright infringement and other intellectual property complaints, according to a Bisnow review of court documents. Florance has defended this practice to his investors as a “vital and prudent investment.” 

“We believe that the evidence clearly shows that Xceligent and its agents willfully and illegally stole massive volumes of valuable content from CoStar and LoopNet,” Florance said on an earnings call in May.

The Birth Of The Property Data Industry

Before CoStar changed the way commercial real estate companies share data, commercial brokers in most large markets would lug around thick office guide directories, scanning through the pages to try to identify available space for their clients to rent. Agents would fax their listings to the publishing companies that would put out new guides as frequently as each quarter.

Xceligent Files Antitrust Suit Against CoStar, Alleges Years Of Anticompetitive Behavior
CoStar CEO Andrew Florance

During his time studying economics at Princeton University in the mid-1980s, Florance, the son of a D.C. architect, saw the way other industries were beginning to use data and wondered why commercial real estate was so far behind. He created a concept where commercial real estate companies would outsource their research operations by sharing their data with a third-party platform and pay to access a centralized database with information on everyone’s properties. In 1987, he launched Realty Information Group, which later became CoStar Group.

“I could see what Treasury was doing this morning versus this afternoon, I could see what a stock index was doing right now versus six seconds ago,” Florance told Washingtonian magazine in 2013. “But there was just nothing for real estate. You’ve got $30 trillion of commercial real estate in the world — it’s four or five times larger than the value of all the securities on Nasdaq — and it was all manual.”

CoStar began expanding geographically in the mid-1990s by acquiring local companies that were digitizing property data in a similar way. Between 1996 and 1999, it acquired property data companies in Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, Atlanta, Cincinnati and Los Angeles, spending over $21M in the process, according to its December 1999 Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

When Florance took the company public on July 1, 1998, CoStar began selling on the Nasdaq at $9 per share. It now trades at $261 a share and is worth almost $9B. In 2016, CoStar reported $832M in revenue, $82M in profits and a workforce of more than 3,000 people, according to the company’s SEC filings.

Building A Competitor

During the 1990s, Curry owned a company in Kansas City, Missouri, that engineered a more efficient way to write real estate appraisals. As he began to shift from the residential to commercial sector, he realized Kansas City, a market CoStar did not yet have a presence in, had no centralized platform for viewing information on commercial property. He decided to bring together local brokers to contribute their listings to a database, actively gathering information to fill in the gaps. What he initially thought would be a “two-week, $10K problem,” ended up changing his career. He founded Xceligent in 1999.

At the request of San Diego brokers looking for a less restrictive alternative to CoStar, Curry and 18 employees spent six weeks taking pictures of every building to create a new database from the ground up. He called the San Diego process a “turning point” for the company. Over the next seven years, Xceligent created commercial property databases in 15 new cities.

Aiming to differentiate itself from CoStar, Xceligent is experimenting with an open architecture platform that would allow other real estate tech companies to connect their products to its national database of property inventory. Curry believes CoStar’s restrictions on sharing data have made the industry as a whole slower to utilize technology.

“There have been millions of great tech companies and millions of great workflows that would have flourished and been adopted much earlier if there weren’t so many restrictive blocks around the flow of content through the industry,” Curry stressed.

“Someone has to say, ‘We’re stifling the way the U.S. real estate economy is reported on, analyzed, interpreted, valued, because of one company’s hold on the content flow,’” Curry added. “And that’s bad for the United States.”

Xceligent's owner, London-based Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT), made public its goal to spend tens of millions of dollars fueling the data company's growth plans. To date, DMGT has spent $150M as Xceligent has grown into larger markets. It also plans to open in Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

The timing of CoStar’s legal action, as well as Xceligent’s countersuit, is noteworthy. On Friday, Xceligent plans to launch its platform in New York City, the country’s largest real estate market. Curry said his firm will spend as much as $15M inspecting and photographing more than 3B SF across 180,000 buildings in the Tri-State region.

Curry said he does not intend to settle, and the company’s ownership group, London-based Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT)

Read more at: https://www.bisnow.com/preview_story/76054?utm_source=CopyShare&utm_medium=Browser
Curry said he does not intend to settle, and the company’s ownership group, London-based Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT)

Read more at: https://www.bisnow.com/preview_story/76054?utm_source=CopyShare&utm_medium=Browser

“We’re now entering New York, which will be the largest revenue market in the country, tied to the fact we’re going to open up a platform to not just let Xceligent innovate to create competition, let the industry innovate to create competition and access this data,” Curry said. “That was a turning moment, and at that point, we did think, ‘If there’s going to be a chance that they’re going to file a lawsuit, this is going to be the time.’”  

Curry said Xceligent has about 1,300 employees. As a private company, Xceligent does not reveal its financial information. But Curry said the company is not profitable, as it devotes heavy resources to breaking into the biggest U.S. markets, where CoStar is most dominant.

“You have to get national scale to make this work, which is why it’s so crucial that [CoStar] can’t block competition,” he said. “That is the antitrust piece of this. We believe 40% of the industry requires either regional or national coverage, so it’s not a local business.”

The Legal Battle Ahead

CoStar’s copyright infringement suit against Xceligent claims its competitor stole and resold its information “on an industrial scale.” In its initial complaint filed on Dec. 12, 2016, CoStar claimed to have found at least 9,000 instances where Xceligent stole its photographs and hundreds of cases where Xceligent stole proprietary data values.

CoStar amended its lawsuit in May to include evidence involving Avion BPO Corp., a research company in the Philippines that Xceligent pays to help build its databases. CoStar obtained the evidence, which includes screen shots of Avion employees’ computers, through a civil seizure issued by a Philippines court. CoStar claims the screen shots prove Avion employees copied content from LoopNet while building Xceligent’s database.

Xceligent Files Antitrust Suit Against CoStar, Alleges Years Of Anticompetitive Behavior
CompStak CEO Michael Mandel, Xceligent CEO Doug Curry, VTS Senior Vice President Andrew Flint and Reonomy CEO Richard Sarkis

Xceligent claims CoStar is using the complaint as an attempt to stifle its competition. Curry said there are 10 million images in Xceligent’s database, and he would have taken down the disputed images and paid a fine if CoStar had gone through a typical remuneration process. He believes the company’s decision to instead file a major lawsuit represents an attempt to put Xceligent out of business.

“It’s not about the images, it’s much broader,” Curry said. “This is an attempt to litigate a monopoly.”

Curry said he does not intend to settle, and DMGT has decided to spend as much as it takes to see the lawsuit through — likely devoting millions of dollars more than any other company that has ever faced off with CoStar in court.

"CoStar’s misconduct is willful and outrageous, undertaken with evil motive and reckless indifference to the rights of Xceligent, and for the anticompetitive purpose of raising Xceligent’s costs, and restricting Xceligent’s access to customers in order to drive Xceligent out of the CRE information services and CRE listings database markets," the countersuit states.

CoStar recently told investors it would spend up to $20M this year on the lawsuit. Florance has compared CoStar’s action against Xceligent with a recent intellectual suit brought by Craigslist. The online classified ads titan successfully sued apartment search company RadPad, and a judge ordered the Los Angeles-based startup to pay Craigslist $60.5M for stealing its users’ contact information.

“After the litigation began, RadPad wound up ceasing operations. We believe that there are similarities with cases we're involved in,” Florance said on his May earnings call. “We are suing Xceligent because we've uncovered tens of thousands of instances of their copyright infringement of our content … We have collected more than 100 terabytes of evidence in connection with the case.”

Richard Sarkis, co-founder and CEO of property data firm Reonomy, said for companies like CoStar and Xceligent, the information they collect is their lifeblood. And considering the man-hours and money it has taken to collect all that data, it makes sense that CoStar would do everything in its power to maximize the return on that investment.

“In every other industry, protecting your data or IP — and I’m not saying it’s right or wrong — everybody does it,” Sarkis said. “Andy’s point of view is that ‘I’ve developed, at great cost to myself, this unique database.’ One mechanism to protect it in the United States of America is litigation.”

That Time The Feds Stepped In

In April 2012, the FTC decided to take action to prevent CoStar from becoming a monopoly.

The Federal Trade Commission's headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The Federal Trade Commission's headquarters in Washington, D.C.

LoopNet, founded in 1995, had grown to be the nation’s largest public marketplace for commercial property listings, plus it owned a majority stake in Xceligent. CoStar agreed to buy LoopNet for $860M, giving it control over Xceligent, already its biggest U.S. competitor in commercial real estate data.

The FTC determined that the merger, if left untouched, would “substantially lessen competition in the relevant markets,” and increase “the likelihood that CoStar will exercise market power unilaterally.”

In order for the LoopNet merger to go through, the FTC forced CoStar to sell Xceligent to another investor. It also put a series of restrictions in place to prevent CoStar from engaging in anticompetitive behavior — including a provision stating it could not prevent its customers from sharing their data with a competing company.

"By maintaining Xceligent as an independent competitor and ensuring Xceligent's ability to grow and expand, the FTC's settlement order will foster continued competition in these markets,” FTC Bureau of Competition Director Richard Feinstein said in a release at the time. Feinstein, now in private practice, declined to comment for this story.

After the FTC issued its order, Florance said he was not concerned about how the requirements or the forced spinoff of Xceligent would affect the merged CoStar-LoopNet company.

“We’re happy to compete basically on the quality of the product,” Florance told the Washington Post at the time. He said he was happy to comply with the order to ensure competition. “I think we have the best marking [sic] solution now; we think we have the best information solution. We’ll let those products compete on their own merits.”

Following the verdict, the FTC appointed a monitor, Guy Dorey, to ensure compliance with its consent decree. Dorey, who founded Dorey Publishing Co. in 1978 and published Dorey’s Guides to Atlanta real estate, was chosen out of five candidates to review each company’s financial data every quarter. Both Xceligent and CoStar had to agree to Dorey serving as the monitor.

Dorey’s financial history with both companies has raised some questions. CoStar bought the online division of Dorey’s company, at the time considered CoStar’s biggest competitor in Atlanta, for $3M in cash in 2008. Before that, Curry said, Dorey had paid Xceligent to license its technology to build his company’s website.

This means Dorey had business ties to both entities, which raised red flags to some in the industry who questioned whether he could remain impartial. Robert Canter of Maryland-based Performance Realty Solutions wrote in a letter to the FTC in April 2012 that Dorey’s appointment “was not a well thought-out decision.”

“Does the FTC actually believe there can be no bias by an individual that profited from such a large sale?” Canter wrote. “This should be reconsidered in the least.”

It is Dorey’s job to ring the alarm bells if CoStar engages in actions the FTC could view as an intention to restrict competition — particularly from Xceligent. Those bells have been quiet in the five years since the merger, although several industry watchers told Bisnow they expect the FTC to take further action at some point. Dorey and the FTC declined to comment.

Although the commission has made several rulings in recent years to protect competition in proposed mergers and acquisitions, its enforcement efforts are seen by experts as somewhere between sparse and nonexistent, particularly in the technology and data industries. The last major antitrust litigation to succeed in the space was against Microsoft; it concluded in 2002.

Since then, the closest any technology firm has come to prosecution for being a monopoly was Google in 2008, when the search giant was negotiating an ad partnership with Yahoo, its biggest competitor at the time. When the Department of Justice signaled that it was prepared to bring an antitrust suit, Google canceled the deal.

Gary Reback, an attorney who specializes in antitrust litigation in Silicon Valley, was part of the legal team that successfully sued to break up Microsoft’s computer and internet empire in the 1990s. He has not seen the Xceligent suit and could not comment on its specifics, but is seen as one of the leaders in U.S. antitrust law.

“There isn’t much antitrust enforcement in the technology sector by the federal government,” Reback said. “None, really.”

Xceligent's Claims

The central claim of Xceligent’s lawsuit is that CoStar violated U.S. antitrust law and the FTC order by restricting its users from sharing their own property information with competing services. It alleges that CoStar improperly restricted information sharing in three main ways.

First, Xceligent alleges that CoStar alters entries in its databases, including its subscription-based services and public websites, in order to claim ownership over information members submitted, potentially distorting the accuracy of the listings.

CoStar details this practice in its December suit, saying it sometimes uses proprietary tools to create values that are different from what brokers submit. Since these individual data points could not be obtained from other sources, CoStar’s suit says they act as a “digital fingerprint” to catch companies that try to steal its data.

The practice, called fictitious entry, is commonly used in creating maps, dictionaries and encyclopedias, where benign fabrications are sometimes planted to protect against plagiarism.

The difference between common forms of fictitious entry and what CoStar does, Curry said, is that CoStar changes property information that belongs to brokers and landlords without notifying them, and then uses those changes to block them from sharing their data with another firm.

CoStar gives 16 examples of specific data points it has changed, which include characteristics such as a building’s parking ratio, lot size and the year it was built.

“These data include, for example, values estimated using proprietary CoStar tools and data where the CoStar databases contain a unique value distinct from the broker marketing materials and other sources,” the lawsuit states. “Examples of such fingerprints which appeared first on CoStar, now appear on CommercialSearch, and, to the best of CoStar’s knowledge, are distinct from the relevant data points found in the public record.”

CoStar gives the example of a warehouse at 1409-1411 West 11th St. in Kansas City, Missouri. CoStar said it listed the 26K SF building as built in 1978, which is also its construction date on Xceligent’s public website, commercialsearch.com. In its court filing, CoStar says the “true value” of the building’s construction date is 1914.

While CoStar claims it changes certain numbers in its database to catch data thieves, Xceligent views it as a tool to prevent brokers from sharing their data with CoStar’s competitors. What’s more, Curry claimed, the numbers they change could make the difference when a company is deciding where it wants to move its office.

“I wonder how many times people have made a decision over the building size being different,” Curry said. “I think parking ratio is the one that scares me the most, or some other attribute that the owner didn’t even know isn’t true.”

As part of their normal workflow, Curry said brokers will go into CoStar’s databases, and pull the information they previously contributed, not knowing CoStar may have made changes. By making these changes without telling users and claiming ownership over the altered data, Curry said, CoStar is essentially blocking its customers from sharing their own information with a competitor unless they go back and reinspect every characteristic of each of their buildings.

“Their implication is now we can’t even accept the data because the person sending it to us doesn’t know which of the attributes are changed,” Curry said. “That’s insanity. I didn’t think they’d go that far, but that’s what the implication of this is.”

CBRE's website, embedded with CoStar's LoopLink platform
International brokerage firm CBRE's website, like many others, is embedded with CoStar's LoopLink platform.

Second, it alleges CoStar repeatedly blocked Xceligent employees from viewing the public LoopNet listings, which some firms integrate into their own websites. These platforms contain information on one-third of U.S. commercial properties, Curry said, and are generated by the brokers themselves.

In many cases, brokerage firms embed CoStar's public platform, LoopLink, into their own websites. To search the listings of CBRE, the biggest commercial brokerage company in the world, a user must agree to LoopNet’s terms and conditions.

But over an 18-month span, Curry claims CoStar blocked Xceligent employees’ access to these listings for short periods of time. When Xceligent would notify the FTC that its access was blocked, Curry said, CoStar reinstated it, only to block its employees again in a matter of days. Curry said Xceligent was preparing to file a formal complaint with the FTC when CoStar filed its lawsuit in December.

The practice is no longer intermittent; Curry said Xceligent has been blocked from accessing LoopLink for three months and counting.

CoStar's watermark claims from its lawsuit
Example from CoStar's lawsuit of images with CoStar's watermark allegedly removed before being uploaded to CommercialSearch

Third, Xceligent claims CoStar’s intellectual property suit would have the effect of preventing its competitors from accepting pictures submitted by brokers.

CoStar’s December suit identified thousands of images on CommercialSearch, that came from LoopLink and either had CoStar watermarks cropped out or in some cases, still had them visible in the picture.

Curry argues that as part of brokers’ normal workflow, they will often download a photo they once took of their building and put on LoopLink, because they no longer have the original copy, and send the file to Xceligent. As long as the photos were member-contributed and not taken by CoStar, Curry said this should be allowed under the FTC order.

Since members sometimes crop out CoStar’s watermarks, Curry said that CoStar’s suit would effectively prevent Xceligent from accepting member-contributed pictures because it could not verify if it originally appeared on a CoStar product.

“The inference would be that we couldn’t take anything from a broker again,” Curry said.

In addition, Xceligent alleges CoStar prevents its users from sharing information, and Xceligent’s suit details two separate types of anticompetitive behavior it claims CoStar has engaged in.

Xceligent claims CoStar has for years made “false and defamatory” statements about Xceligent intended to drive customers away from using the competing service. Curry said CoStar has lied about the number of researchers Xceligent employs when its competitor expands into new markets and casts aspersions on its competitors' finances.

“By continuously misleading the customers and misrepresenting the reality, they continuously try to diminish their competition,” Curry said.

Curry also claims that, during the period the FTC was reviewing the CoStar-LoopNet merger in 2012, CoStar told Xceligent customers it was going to buy it and shut it down, telling them to sign with CoStar immediately to avoid paying a higher rate after the merger closed.

Finally, Xceligent alleges that CoStar has violated antitrust law by bundling its services geographically and forcing users to pay for information on markets they no longer want. When a broker cancels his CoStar service in one market because a competitor has entered and offered a cheaper rate, Xceligent claims, CoStar then increases what the broker pays for the other products it subscribes to.

“As our customers notify CoStar that they’re going to terminate their CoStar service, the CoStar reps come back to them and say, ‘You’re welcome to cancel CoStar, but if you do so, we’re going to significantly increase your LoopNet rate and make it where the financial penalty to cancel is so significant that the savings would be minimized,’” Curry said.

32 Lawsuits, 26 Acquisitions, One Goliath

CoStar has filed at least 32 lawsuits since 1999 — most of them claiming copyright infringement, according to a review of court documents. The company’s recent copyright disputes include a 15-month legal battle with Apartment Hunters, which ended with a judge ruling in CoStar's favor in March and ordering the California-based company to pay CoStar $10K for each stolen listing. A year earlier, CoStar settled a similar copyright infringement suit against RealMassive for $1M.

In the two years following the LoopNet merger and subsequent FTC ruling, CoStar stayed out of the courts. Then, on April 1, 2014, it launched a legal blitz, filing eight lawsuits in five states on the same day against small firms in cities like Dallas, Chicago, Denver and Detroit, and an entrepreneur who tried to launch a competitor in Los Angeles.

“Sometimes I joke that you haven’t made it until you get sued by CoStar,” Sarkis said. His firm, Reonomy, only culls its data from public records and does not use images, which he says is more accurate, efficient and leaves fewer openings for intellectual property litigation. “I’m waiting for my badge of honor.”

In the course of its global expansion, CoStar has acquired at least 26 other companies in the commercial real estate data sector, spending at least $1.8B in the process, according to its SEC filings. CoStar’s 2012 acquisition of LoopNet came after multiple copyright suits between the two companies, launched from both sides.

“It’s a historical trend that you can see. It’s their strategy,” Curry said. “‘Can’t quite figure out how to stop them, so I’m going to buy them.’”

In addition to its vital status among brokers, CoStar is also a primary tool researchers use to analyze the industry. JLL head of U.S. Office Research Scott Homa said CoStar has become the foundation for how the research departments at major firms create their market reports.

“It’s absolutely the industry benchmark,” Homa said. “They have, in many markets, inclusive of D.C., essentially a monopoly on that segment.”

Although it has a dominant status in many markets, Homa said firms can prevent CoStar from engaging in monopolistic behavior by only contributing their data as long as the pricing remains fair. But while big firms can afford CoStar’s monthly rates, the cost can be too much to bear for brokers who launch their own independent firms.

When former CBRE D.C. brokerage head Ernie Jarvis launched his own firm last year, he elected not to subscribe to CoStar because of the cost. He said the knowledge and relationships he has developed over decades in the industry allows him to ultimately find the information he needs, although it takes longer than a quick database search. Younger brokers do not have the same luxury.

“If you have a small firm, your CoStar monthly payment could be equal or exceeding your monthly office lease payment,” Jarvis said. “If you’re under 10 years [in the field] and don’t have the relationships with brokers, it may be a hindrance.”

CoStar does not publish its rates online, but Curry said his customers say Xceligent’s prices, on average for its full product, are approximately 40% less than CoStar’s.

CoStar Xceligent webpages
Screen shots of CoStar and Xceligent's dueling webpages about the legal battle

What Comes Next

Now that the countersuit has been filed, Curry and his executive team plan to tour the country to tell their side of the story, and his goal is to convince brokers in the 150 biggest cities nationwide to back Xceligent’s cause.

Time is of the essence in Curry’s mind, and not just for Xceligent. In CoStar’s 2016 annual SEC filing, the company disclosed it is exploring ending LoopNet customers’ ability to post basic listings for free in an attempt to “convert LoopNet information customers to higher value, more profitable annual subscription information services,” CoStar stated. Users could still search the marketplace free of charge.

“This marketplace that the industry thought was going to be kind of the safe place to search and share listings is going to be radically changed,” Curry said. “We need to use our relationships to get in front of every real estate head in the country and say, ‘Hey, this is what we’re litigating. We may not be in your market today, but you’ve got to get involved.’”

It remains to be seen how deeply the message will resonate with the audience. While CoStar’s dominance and litigiousness is unquestioned, not all are convinced that a judge, or the FTC, would call it a monopoly.

While CoStar has no shortage of detractors, its lawsuits have been well-publicized for years — CoStar has a pattern of sending out press releases to announce its intellectual property suits and has built custom websites to draw attention to them — and public outcry has been largely limited to its legal opponents.

"I have not seen the villagers with pitchforks march up to the castle and say, 'enough, we want the monster’s head,'" Sarkis said. "I’m sure Doug and Xceligent want that. They want to get the villagers riled up. They’re saying, 'Look, the monster’s in that castle, go and get him.'"

Mark F. Bonner and Jay Rickey contributed to this report.

Xceligent and CoStar are Bisnow advertisers.