As banks and service companies race to gain an early lead in the nascent home banking market, recent events suggest that the eventual leaders may corner the market through lawsuits and patents rather than sales and alliances.

The latest and most notable evidence of this development comes from Checkfree Corp., the nation's leading bill payment processor. Last week, Checkfree obtained a patent for its bill payment service and promptly slapped a smaller, up-and-coming rival, National Payment Clearinghouse Inc., with an infringement suit.

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