The NY Times blogs about an interesting lawsuit between online mortgage lead generator LendingTree and one of its partners Mortech, Inc., which is allegedly about to help Google launch a LendingTree-like loan aggregation or mortgage lead-gen service. According to a press release issued yesterday about the litigation by LendingTree:
Mortech, whose technology helps automate lender offer pricing, violated its contractual covenants by partnering with Google to launch an online mortgage loan aggregator service similar to LendingTree.
Despite repeated efforts, LendingTree was unsuccessful in resolving the dispute amicably and therefore took legal action. LendingTree has filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction enjoining Mortech from assisting Google. A hearing has been scheduled for September 2.
Nobody went formally on the record with the Times to discuss the claims in the suit. Google issued one of its familiar, general statements but did confirm a mortgage-related test:
[W]e are currently working on a small ad unit test that will run against a limited number of mortgage-related search queries in the U.S.
As the Times piece points out Google is not a party to the litigation. It also cites Google “merchant search” (UK) as the potential model for this hypothetical new mortgage quote offering. Google merchant search is not live today but here’s a screenshot of what the UK test looked like:
The focus on mortgage search or quotes is a bit of a red herring I suspect. The UK test was really about developing a model to deliver leads on a CPA or pay-per-call basis. In this case many were small business advertisers (mortgage brokers). Mortgages happened to be the content or category used in this test. One of the clues here is the name of the service: the broadly applicable “merchant search,” not “mortgage search.”
To the extent that Google is planning to introduce a similar service in the US, you can be sure it’s not about a single vertical but rather about testing a distinct marketplace or CPA model — with an eye toward smaller advertisers (though not exclusively).
Postscript: Here’s the relevant language from the complaint (the complaint was sent to me by Clint Boulton at eWeek) about Google’s program:
LendingTree recently learned that Google imminently plans to launch a loan aggregation service in late August or early September of this year that would compete directly with LendingTree. LendingTree has also learned that Mortech intends to make its pricing engine services available for use with Google’s new service and will send information related to mortgage loan offers to be displayed to consumers on Google’s website.
LendingTree obtained “screen shots” of the trial version of Google’s service that further indicate that, like LendingTree’s service, Google will provide customers with conditional loan offers in addition to lenders’ contact information.