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Earthcomber files patent lawsuits against 12 real estate companies

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A dozen companies sued

Earthcomber is a patented technology that aides mobile device users in locating special interests nearby, allowing users to share their current location with friends by manual entry of ZIP code or current intersection rather than through GPS or triangulation, according to how they describe themselves on CrunchBase.com, although their website describes Earthcomber as a GPS app.

Although several companies say they have not yet been served with any legal papers, Earthcomber filed ten lawsuits against a dozen real estate companies for allegedly infringing their 2006 patent on matching mobile users with their “stated preferences.” The companies sued are parent real estate companies, many of whom operate dozens of companies within their network, so this lawsuit is much more than just twelve companies overall.

Court documents filed read:
“These inventions resulted in the issuance of multiple patents, including United States Patent No. 7,071,842, entitled “System and Method for Locating and Notifying a User of a Person, Place or Thing Having Attributes Matching the User’s Stated Preferences,” (“the ‘842 Patent”) and United States Patent No. 7,589,628, entitled “System and Method for Providing Location-Based Information to Mobile Consumers,” (“the ‘628 Patent”). Earthcomber offers applications for mobile devices that are embodiments of the inventions claimed by the ‘842 and ‘628 Patents and these applications have won acclaim in the industry.”
*Emphasis by AGBeat, not court documents.

In 2008, Earthcomber sued mobile social network Loopt and the corporate parent of technology blog TechCrunch which was settled in 2009 for which the terms have not been publicly disclosed. Earthcomber Founder and President, Jim Brady told PaidContent.com that he is not a patent troll and that Earthcomber originally envisioned combining Palm and Bluetooth technology into one device and the patent was his only protection. He told PaidContent, “Big money bowls over small app makers like us.”

Patent reform

Although the new laws only apply to new patents, we reported last fall that President Obama has signed into law major patent reforms in the “America Invests Act.” According to the National Association of Realtors, the Act is divided into three parts, “First, it aims to keep the U.S. patent system attractive to global companies by aligning its processes with other countries’ processes. Second, it tries to align funding for the U.S. Patent Office with its needs by modifying its fee system. And third, it aims to raise the bar on the quality of the patents so only the most appropriate patent infringement lawsuits are filed.”

The third part of the act seeks to stunt patent trolling and promotes innovation as it disallows generic patents such as “real estate search” which is so broad it leaves vulnerable any company or person creating, designing or using these technologies.

The patent system in America has been desperately in need of an overhaul for decades, and although the implications of these reforms will not be seen or felt for some time, it is a much needed reform that could open the gates for innovators who have sat on the sidelines in fear.

All 12 companies named:

Earthcomber says they are defending their patent from the following companies who may or may not have been served with court papers yet (click any name to view the court documentation, featured in alphabetical order):

  • Dominion Enterprises – parent company of Advanced Access, Agent Advantage, eNeighborhoods, Homes.com, HomeSolutions, New Homes and Living, Number1 Expert, After 55 Moving & Resource Guide, Apartments For Rent, Apartamentos Para Rentar, CorporateHousing.com, resite online, 123movers.com, careersingear.com, EmploymentGuide.com, Health Career Web, jobalot, wiseworker.com, TraderOnline.com, AeroTrader, Boats.com, BoatTrader.com, CommercialTruckTrader.com, CycleTrader.com, EquipmentTrader.com, getAuto.com, National RV Trader, RVtraderonline.com, Passage Maker, Pay Load, Work Truck Trader, Yachtworld.com, Towing & Recovery Footnotes, Waneck’s Classic Cycle, Dominion Dealer Solutions, Data Cube, DataOne Software, Cross-Sell, Interactive Financial Marketing Group, MailMark, PowerSportsNetwork, SelectQu, Target Marketing, TrafficLogPro, VehicleWebServices, XIGroup, Ziios, HotelCoupons.com, Travel Coupon Guide, Florida Travel Saver, Parenthood.com, Dominion Distribution, and InterCo Print.
  • LoopNet – commercial real estate search engine.
  • Move, Inc. – whose network consists of Move.com, Realtor.com, Top Producer, Moving.com, and HomeInsight.com, Senior Housing Net, ListHub, Builders Digital Experience (BDX), FeaturedWebsite.com, Newhomesource.com, and HomeInsight.com.
  • MyNewPlace.com – national apartment search website, dba MF Tech Solutions, Inc.
  • National Association of Realtors – one of the nation’s largest trade organizations, named in the same suit as Move, Inc. who they share an operating agreement with.
  • Network Communications, Inc. – real estate publishers that print Apartment Finder, The Real Estate Book, Unique Homes, Mature Living Choices, New Home Finder, New Homes & Ideas, New Homes Journal, Home Improvement Dallas, Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles, Mountain Living, At Home in Arkansas, Chicago Home Improvement, Colorado Homes & Lifestyles, Kansas City Homes & Gardens, New England Home, Raleigh/Triangle Home Improvement, St. Louis Homes & Lifestyles, and Seattle Homes & Lifestyles, along with their corresponding websites.
  • Primedia – parent company of print magazines Apartment Guide and New Home Guide, also parent to Rentals.com, ApartmentGuide.com, NewHomeGuide.com and their distributor, DistribuTech.
  • RealPage, Inc. – named in the same suit as MyNewPlace.com, RealPage is a Software as a service provider for property managers with familiar product lines like Rent Roll (now YieldStar), ComplianceDepot, Propertyware and several others.
  • Redfin – national real estate brokerage.
  • Trulia – real estate search media company (acquired Movity in 2010).
  • Zillow – real estate search media company (acquired Postlets and Diverse Solutions in 2011).
  • ZipRealty – national real estate brokerage.

The American Genius is news, insights, tools, and inspiration for business owners and professionals. AG condenses information on technology, business, social media, startups, economics and more, so you don’t have to.

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47 Comments

47 Comments

  1. Ray Schmitz

    January 20, 2012 at 2:51 am

    I am not sure we should allow patents on software at all.

  2. Frank

    January 23, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    patent trolling at it's finest.

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Business News

Corporate-franchise relationships: How has COVID affected them?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Being a part of a franchise has made sense for a long time for both the corporation and the franchisee, but the long stretch of COVID is adding complications.

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A franchise cup on a wooden table.

Americans love a franchise. We love knowing that every Dunkin Donuts iced coffee will taste the same as it did 3 states away – and every McDonald’s snack wrap will meet our expectations.

Franchises rose in popularity after World War II, and the corporate-franchise relationship since has generally been a happy one – that is, until COVID-19.

What’s their relationship?

Franchises are easier to start than a small business from scratch. You receive a business playbook and brand loyalty from corporate – if the business at large is doing well, chances are your franchise will mirror that. No need for independent advertising!

From the franchises, corporate gets an upfront fee and ongoing royalties. (For a McDonalds franchise, that’s $45k and 4% of monthly gross sales, respectively.)

Basically, it’s win-win. Both parties are happy.

Pandemic strain

The pandemic has shrunk margins across most industries, and the chain hotels, restaurants and services have been hit hard. As a result, corporate is adding more costs for franchisees, such as big cleaning bills and promotional discounts to bring back some revenue during COVID.

However, with corporate still taking the same amount from the franchises every month, these newly instated policies threaten to drive some stores into the ground – and franchisees are fighting back.

“I get that franchising isn’t a democracy,” said a Subway franchisee, who objected to the unprofitable “2-Subs-for-$10” promotion that corporate was pushing for. “But at the same time, it’s not a dictatorship.”

What I see here is corporate greed at work; they need to keep their margins up in a sinking economy, so they’re looking to the pockets of their franchisees to make up for that lost dough.

The pandemic has not been easy on any business (with the exception, of course, of Amazon, Facebook, and Tesla, which is a whole other story). However, that’s the draw of being connected to corporate – you are tied to something bigger than your individual store, and will thus stay afloat as long as they do. It’s a big reason why many opt for starting a franchise as opposed to starting their own, independent small business.

I’m glad to see individuals fighting back against corporate policies that don’t benefit them. They held up their side of the bargain – let’s see if corporate can continue to hold up theirs.

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Business News

What to do if you think you have been wrongfully terminated

(BUSINESS NEWS) Being fired hurts, but especially if you were wrongfully terminated. Here is what you can do if you need to take action.

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Stressed man staring at computer after being wrongfully terminated.

While there are plenty of ways an employer can legally fire an employee, there’s also a long list of unethical and illegal methods. If you suspect you’ve been wrongfully terminated from your job, it’s imperative that you fight back.

Common Signs of Wrongful Termination

Research shows that around 150,000 people are unjustly fired every year in the United States. That’s more than 410 people per day – roughly 17 people per hour. Here are some common signs that you’re a victim:

  • Violation of written rules or promises. The vast majority of employment is known as “at-will” employment. This means you may be fired at any time for any reason (so long as the reason is not illegal). However, if there’s a written statement or contract that implies job security, then you’re probably not an at-will employee. Review all of your employment documents to see what sort of language exists around the topic of termination.
  • Discrimination. It doesn’t matter if you’re an at-will employee or not, employers can never fire someone based on discrimination. It’s illegal – point blank, period. If you suspect you’ve been fired because of your color, race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, disability, age, religion, or pregnancy, discrimination could be to blame.
  • Breach of good faith. Employers are known to breach good faith when they do things like mislead employees regarding their chances for promotions; fabricate reasons for firing; transfer or fire an employee to prevent the collection of sales commissions; and other similar situations.

Every situation is different, but these three signs are clear indicators that you have a potential wrongful termination claim. How you proceed will determine what happens next.

How to Respond to a Wrongful Termination

Emotions tend to run high when you’re fired from a job. Whether you loved the job or not, it’s totally normal to run a little hot under the collar upon being wrongfully terminated. But how you handle the first several hours and days will determine a lot about how this situation unfolds. Now is not the time to fly off the handle and say or do something you’ll regret. Instead, take a diplomatic response that includes steps like:

1. Gather Evidence

Wrongful termination cases are usually more complicated than they first appear on the surface. It’s important that you focus on gathering as much evidence as you possibly can. Any information or documentation you collect will increase your chances for a successful outcome. This may include emails, screenshots, written contracts and documentation, voicemails, text messages, and/or statements from coworkers.

On a related note, remember that your former employer will be doing the same thing (if a claim is brought). Be on your best behavior and don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Avoid venting to coworkers or firing off short, snappy emails to your former boss. As the saying goes, anything you say or do can and will be used against you.

2. Hire an Attorney

Don’t try to handle your wrongful termination case on your own. Hire an experienced lawyer who specializes in situations like yours. This will give you a much better chance of obtaining a successful outcome.

3. Get Legal Funding

If you’re like most victims of wrongful termination, you find yourself with no immediate source of income. This can make it difficult to pay your bills and stay financially solvent in the short term. An employment lawsuit loan could help bridge the gap.

As Upfit Legal Funding explains, “Wrongful termination lawsuit loans provide the necessary financial assistance they need to reach a settlement. This funding helps cover basic living costs until the plaintiff is able to get assistance from their settlement.”

The best thing about these loans is that you only have to repay them if there’s a successful outcome. In other words, if the claim gets thrown out or denied, you owe nothing.

4. File the Proper Paperwork

Work closely with your attorney to make sure that your complaints and claims are filed with the appropriate regulatory agencies (and that you meet the required deadlines). Depending on the type of claim, there are different groups that oversee the complaint and can help you move in the proper direction.

Adding it All Up

Getting fired is serious business. And while there are plenty of legal reasons for being terminated from a job, it’s worth exploring what’s actually going on behind the scenes. If it’s found that your employer stepped out of line, you’ll be compensated in an appropriate manner. This won’t typically help you get your job back, but it can provide some financial rectification.

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Business News

Everyone should have an interview escape plan

(BUSINESS NEWS) A job interview should be a place to ask about qualifications but sometimes things can go south – here’s how to escape when they do.

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interview from hell

“So, why did you move from Utah to Austin?” the interviewer asked over the phone.

The question felt a little out of place in the job interview, but I gave my standard answer about wanting a fresh scene. I’d just graduated college and was looking to break into the Austin market. But the interviewer wasn’t done.

“But why Austin?” he insisted, “There can’t be that many Mormons here.”

My stomach curled. This was a job interview – I’d expected to discuss my qualifications for the position and express my interest in the company. Instead, I began to answer more and more invasive questions about my personal life and religion. The whole ordeal left me very uncomfortable, but because I was young and desperate, I put up with it. In fact, I even went back for a second interview!

At the time, I thought I had to put up with that sort of treatment. Only recently have I realized that the interview was extremely unprofessional and it wasn’t something I should have felt obligated to endure.

And I’m not the only one with a bad interview story. Slate ran an article sharing others’ terrible experiences, which ranged from having their purse inspected to being trapped in a 45-minute presentation! No doubt, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mistreatment by potential employers.

So, why do we put up with it?

Well, sometimes people just don’t know better. Maybe, like I was, they’re young or inexperienced. In these cases, these sorts of situations seem like they could just be the norm. There’s also the obvious power dynamic: you might need a job, but the potential employers probably don’t need you.

While there might be times you have to grit your teeth and bear it, it’s also worth remembering that a bad interview scenario often means bad working conditions later on down the line. After all, if your employers don’t respect you during the interview stage, it’s likely the disrespect will continue when you’re hired.

Once you’ve identified an interview is bad news, though, how do you walk out? Politely. As tempting as it is to make a scene, you probably don’t want to go burning bridges. Instead, excuse yourself by thanking your interviewers, wishing them well, and asserting that you have realized the business wouldn’t be a good fit.

Your time, as well as your comfort, are important! If your gut is telling you something is wrong, it probably is. It isn’t easy, but if a job interview is crossing the line, you’re well within your rights to leave. Better to cut your losses early.

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