Giant Eagle faces suit over Fuelperks technology

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A firm that said it helped to facilitate Giant Eagle's Fuelperks program sued the grocer late Friday, alleging breach of duties, patent infringement and unfair competition.

Excentus, a Dallas company created in 1996, said in the complaint that it began talks with Giant Eagle in 2001 about "using fuel discounts as consumer loyalty rewards." In 2002, the two companies entered into a contract under which Excentus' software was used to operate Fuelperks, which allows the grocer's shoppers to get discounts on gas bought from the related GetGo chain.

Giant Eagle was impressed with Excentus' expansion plans, according to the complaint, and invested in the firm, gaining two seats on its board, held by David Shapira and Daniel Shapira.

But Giant Eagle used another vendor, Blackhawk Network, to help with its gift card program, according to the complaint. David Shapira then "facilitated discussions" that led to Blackhawk offering to buy Excentus, the complaint said. Excentus did not reach any agreement with Blackhawk.

Relations between Giant Eagle and Excentus then became strained, and they could not agree on how to expand the program, according to the complaint.

Excentus attorney Jeremy A. Mercer wrote in the complaint that "Giant Eagle has embarked on a course of action to disrupt and gain control of Excentus through breaches of the Shapiras' duties of loyalty and utmost good faith." The grocer also infringed on Excentus' patents, he wrote.

Giant Eagle said Excentus' claims are substantially similar to those in a suit Excentus filed in Texas that were dismissed on jurisdictional grounds. "We believe that the recent claims are wholly without merit, and our expectation is that they will be dismissed in this instance as well," the company said.

The lawsuit demands disgorgement of Giant Eagle's profits, punitive damages and a preliminary injunction against further infringement and unfair competition.

It comes almost at the same time that Giant Eagle announced the cancellation of its related Foodperks program, under which gas customers got discounts on groceries. The grocer said the program was too complicated. The Excentus complaint does not mention Foodperks.

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Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord.


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