31 A PARTNERSHIP BUILT ON TRUST CHAPTER TWO This wasn’t a random event. Emergis had a strategy of monetizing its e-billing patent and targeted utilities around the country, including five other NISC Members. Even hiring a patent lawyer to research and defend the case wasunbelievablycostly,sothethreat—followedquicklybypatentinfringement lawsuits — felt like an ultimatum. “For an electric co-op — holy smoke, we don’t want to spend millions of dollars defending this thing,” says Sugden, who has since retired from Flathead. The co-op’s lawyer suggested contacting NISC CEO Vern Dosch to see if other Members had received a similar letter and might join forces. Dosch conferred with NISC General Counsel Wally Goulet and then with the NISC Board of Directors. The patent-related legal issues were complex, but NISC’s most important underlying value was simple: Have integrity. Do the right thing, always. Although NISC had no legal responsibility, Dosch brought a proposal to the Board to take over the patent infringement case. “We have to protect our Members,” he said. “Let’s put up one legal defense against this. Let’s not have our Members trying to win this battle by themselves.” The Board unanimously agreed. Sugden, who just thought NISC might coordinate co-ops facing a similar threat, was relieved. “It was above and beyond what we hoped when we first called them,” he says. “They just literally took the whole thing over.” NISC stood behind its product and protected its Members — at a substantial price. The company joined a consortium of other utilities fighting Emergis, but legal fees still accrued at a rate as high as $40,000 in a month. Patent attorneys produced a 100-page report that concluded there was no patent infringement. Yet even prevailing in a successful lawsuit could top a million dollars in legal fees. NISC wanted a resolution that would protect its entire Membership, and so it reached a settlement with Emergis that provided a license for perpetual use. In a different case, a federal court eventually ruled that the Emergis patent didn’t cover e-billing systems processed through third-party providers. Today, technology has moved far beyond the electronic billing platform of 2005. What remains are the core values that underlie NISC’s business decisions and relationships. “You’re not going to find anybody [else] who will stand up like NISC did,” Sugden says. co-op could look up customer payment history and print reports. EIPC (which is now Eastern Illini Electric Cooper- ative) even began printing its own bills, which gave the co-op more flexibility to make last-minute changes before the bills were sent. With the new technology, EIPC became more responsive to customers — but the advantages came almost as a surprise. “We couldn’t envision how technology would really help that much. We couldn’t appreciate what we didn’t have until we had it,” says Fricke. “It’s kind of like having a TV set now without having a remote. When you had to go to the TV to change the channel, you didn’t know a remote would make your life easier. You didn’t know what benefits could come down the road,” he says. At the same time, CADP wanted to improve the commu- nications between the data processing center and the Member sites that wanted to stay in an online environment. Pre-internet communication in the 1980s was slow and expensive. CADP provided dedicated landlines, but the burdensome costs had to be passed on to Members.