A recent lawsuit filed against Financial Engines for patent infringement could mean legal woes for other types of robo-advisors.

On Aug. 8, GRQ Investment Management LLC sued Financial Engines Inc. and Financial Engines Advisors LLC, claiming patent infringement relating to certain computer-based advice strategies it used in 401(k)s and other participant-directed retirement plans.

In the complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, GRQ Investment Management asserts that it owns patents — numbered 600 and 825 — that have been and are being infringed upon by Financial Engines.

"It is possible that the owners of the patents in question might take the position that there are other providers who are infringing on the patents in question, as well," Dechert lawyers Andrew Oringer and Susan Camillo wrote in a recent blog.

In an email, Oringer said that the case could impact other robo-advisors because the case relates "to advice that's generated [and] is automatically implemented ("managed," if you will) by the system."

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Melanie Waddell

Melanie is senior editor and Washington bureau chief of ThinkAdvisor. Her ThinkAdvisor coverage zeros in on how politics, policy, legislation and regulations affect the investment advisory space. Melanie’s coverage has been cited in various lawmakers’ reports, letters and bills, and in the Labor Department’s fiduciary rule in 2023. In 2019, Melanie received an Honorable Mention, Range of Work by a Single Author award from @Folio. Melanie joined Investment Advisor magazine as New York bureau chief in 2000. She has been a columnist since 2002. She started her career in Washington in 1994, covering financial issues at American Banker. Since 1997, Melanie has been covering investment-related issues, holding senior editorial positions at American Banker publications in both Washington and New York. Briefly, she was content chief for Internet Capital Group’s EFinancialWorld in New York and wrote freelance articles for Institutional Investor. Melanie holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Towson University. She interned at The Baltimore Sun and its suburban edition.