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Opinion Editorials

New trend in technology- sue for patent infringement, impede progress

Patent trolling is nothing new, but it is crossing into new territory where innovation is actually being stifled in the name of the almighty dollar.

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This is nothing new

For those of you focused on the business of selling real estate or any other small business, you may not know that patent infringement is part of every day life in the legal system. You may not know that your broker has been sued for patent infringement dozens of times (Keller Williams, RE/MAX, etc.) as a natural part of business and it has nothing to do with real estate but everything to do with the technology our industry is using and developing.

Innovation is escalating at a break neck pace, but from time to time, a patent lawsuit stifles not only the very practice of modern real estate, but any innovation and strikes fear in the hearts of real estate companies, just so patent trolls can make a buck (please take a second to read the link about patent trolls, it will speed this argument up considerably).

It is to be expected, however, that when a market is down and suffering that lawsuits will increase – it is a true sign of market conditions. Therefore, this is just a drop in the bucket… we will see more of these cases popping up as we predicted in the Genius30 awards as it is an inevitability in any industry.

Enter case number one: mobile real estate search

In a board meeting for a major real estate marketing and web development firm, we listened as they pitched their next move which would be a “social media widget” they could resell because they were so terrified of making a move that involved real estate search that they were at a loss for how to expand their business.

Why were they so scared? The “Boopsie lawsuit” wherein Smarter Agent sues everyone from Zillow to ZipRealty, claiming they own the patent on “mobile real estate search” and everyone that has an app that allows consumers to search for real estate on their phone is violating their trademark. If you live in 2011 and are a real estate professional, especially a broker, you can’t allow your consumers to search real estate unless it’s done through their platform according to their suit.

Case number two: real estate search

We cover the real estate search industry on nearly a daily basis as it has so many moving parts and is growing and innovating at an amazing pace. There is a wrench in the system, however, known as the “REAL lawsuit” which claims a 1991 patent for real estate search (more specifically they claim they own the process of creating a database of properties for sale, mapping results and offering zoom). Sounds like every single real estate website on the planet, no? Even Google.

The suit is broader and goes after many types of entities from Alain Pinel Realtors, Keller Williams, Move Inc., Georgia MLS, NAR, RE/MAX Gold, Pulte, Ryland and more. The National Association of Home Builders teamed up with the National Association of Realtors and Move, Inc. this week winning a countersuit to the claim and now REAL was remanded to further proceedings where they will go back to a lower court and explain what their patent covers more specifically.

A call for patent reform

The above cases are oversimplified for expediency, there are years worth of legal documents in both events. I’m not a lawyer, I don’t even play one on television, and none of this is legal advice (only my opinion, but I know that patent trolling is real and even when patent suits are legitimate, it seems that protection of a tech function for one company can stifle and freeze an entire industry. Some lawsuits (maybe even one of the above) go above and beyond to file their claims in area that are patent friendly, hundreds of miles from their headquarters, just to pad their claims while other companies are truly protecting a unique patent claim.

Can someone really own real estate search or mobile real estate search or mapping or hell, even “real estate?” Technically, yes. And technically, patent lawyers will pump this system for every penny it’s worth. And will Realtors suffer at the hands of these lawsuits? More importantly, will consumers? If innovation is frozen, yes. Patent reform must be taken seriously and as a Realtor, it seems like a far away topic to rally behind, but it absolutely is not (unless you don’t want consumers to be able to search for real estate anywhere besides your printed MLS book in your office one can only access via time machine).

Patent lawsuits and their impact on technology

Other reading to help you form a more rounded opinion on patent issues in today’s tech world:

  1. Fred Wilson, famed investor, outlines the Supreme Court ruling in the Bilski case, calls for patent reform and notes that software and tech patents are mostly a negative for startups.
  2. NTP sues Apple, Google, Microsoft, LG, HTC etc. claiming they own the patent on electronic mail over wireless communication systems. In other words, you can’t see email on your phone unless NTP says so.
  3. XPRT sues eBay, PayPal, claiming they confided electronic payment ideas with them years ago and that eBay’s filing for a patent acknowledges the values of those ideas. There’s a possible element of underdog here, but one can’t be sure.
  4. Patent trolling may continue despite the University of Texas report revealing that it does not have a good return.
  5. TechCrunch covers why patents hold back innovation not only for our tech toys but for important humanitarian projects like desalination of water.
  6. The Guardian shows all of the dozens of smartphone lawsuits each company has filed against the other and a more descriptive infographic shows what they’re suing for.
  7. TechRadium sues Twitter for mass messaging system (although I recall using AIM in high school, long before Twitter was thought up and possibly before TechRadium’s IRIS tech was developed, but who knows?).
  8. Apple sues HTC over more than 20 infringements of interface patents

The list goes on and on. Contact your local politician and tell them strongly that you are against patent trolling or that you support patent protection, but either way, we encourage reform of an easily abused system. This issue is not going away, it’s just getting warmed up.

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21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Jason

    March 25, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    Thanks for the post. Patent technologies is not a new phenomenon but as you suggested is intensified with shifts in the market economy. Seeking legal counsel prior to patenting or using anything that might be questionable is a good idea. If anyone is in Michigan, there’s a great law firm that specializes in property law (intellectual, patent,etc.) and can be a great resource. Check them out here:www.sikoralaw.com

    Jason

  2. Rick Thomas

    March 28, 2011 at 4:36 am

    Your assertion of the ‘Boopsie lawsuit’ is not entirely correct the way I understand it. Smarter Agent is claiming they have a patent on the geographic location of a user, not search in general on a mobile device. That is a big difference.
    In other words, if I’m standing on the corner of 4th and Main, I can by my geographic position, search what is close to me.
    That in a nutshell I believe is their claim. If you take the geographic location of the search out of the application, then you should be in the clear. If they are asserting that any search on a mobile device falls under the patent, then the pdf you link clearly doesn’t make the case in my opinion. But like you said, I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t play one on the weekends either.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 28, 2011 at 1:05 pm

      Rick, it’s tricky because as we’re all saying, we’re not lawyers, but most real estate search apps ping your geographic location, especially those utilizing augmented reality (of which the number is growing). I’ve heard several interpretations, but the point remains that several innovators feel stifled by the lawsuit and are afraid to improve their offering in the event they get sued.

  3. Jim Colburn

    April 18, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    Lani,

    You are absolutely right. Rent.com recently came out with their iPhone and Android apps, and surprise surprise, it does not include GPS-based searching. I bet you anything that this lawsuit has everything to do with their decision to not include GPS-based searching.

    • Lani Rosales

      April 18, 2011 at 7:06 pm

      Jim, I have a feeling it will impact several technologies in under the radar ways. That's a great case study, thanks for pointing them out!

    • Maciej

      July 13, 2011 at 2:40 pm

      Thanks for an interesting tip. It is even more interesting for me since I have developed a technology to provide those location based services without actually violating any of those patents. The technology actually never submits any location information to the server to get the nearby listings, a step on which, I believe, most (if not all) location based software is based on. This actually makes things interesting. 🙂

    • Erik Goldhar

      February 22, 2012 at 12:27 am

      Jim – we just re-launched Clikbrix (probably the first and certainly one of the most successful mobile solutions for Realtors and Brokers) and held off in including GPS search as one of our features. We need to see how this plays out.

      If you ask me patents should protect inventors. Smarter Agent did not invent Databases and they did not invent GPS. They combined the two and called it an invention.

      Before this patent there was a patent that protected serving up restaurant locations based on the GPS of the user. The process existed (and therefore legal prior art perhaps) and all SA did was change the content being served up not the process or the invention.

      Just my thoughts. Even without search Clikbrix still offers the best mobile solution for Realtors in the market today and, oh by the way, we are FREE.

      Great post Lani – Thank you!

      Erik Goldhar
      Clikbrix

  4. Berry Enloe

    August 26, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    I am the Cofounder of REcake.com and can speak to this directly.
    We chose specifically not to violate this "patent"- yes it holds us up tremendously. As one franchise CEO described it to me, "It's like they patented breathing".
    And Rick is right- SA has several patents- all relating to real estate search "based on location of the mobile device"
    I am surprised that the USPTO has not been presented an Ex-Parte appeal of these patents. You can be sure we will do that as soon as we find it relevant.

    In the mean time we are very close to figuring out a way to do location bases search that does not violate any SA patent.

    So to Lani's point- yes, the SA patents are 100% stifling innovation.

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Opinion Editorials

Before you quit your job, ask yourself these 5 questions

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Frustrated at work? Here are 5 ideas utilizing design thinking and exploration tactics to assess if you really are ready to quit your job.

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Man reclining on beanbag with laptop, thoughtful. Considering tactics before you quit your job.

We have all been there. We are in a job that just doesn’t feel right for us. Maybe we strongly dislike our manager or even our day to day work responsibilities. We find it easy to blame everyone else for everything we dislike. We question life and ask “Is this what life is all about? Shouldn’t I be spending my time doing something I am more passionate about?” But, we probably like the regular paycheck… Thus, we stay there and possibly become more miserable by the day. Some of us may even start to feel physical symptoms of headaches, stomach aches, and possibly depression. We also may go to the internet like this person seeking answers and hoping someone else can tell us what to do:

“I feel conflicted but I want to quit my job. What should I do?

I was thinking of quitting my job because I dislike what I do, and I feel I am underpaid.

However last week my colleague tendered her resignation too. Needless to say, if I leave too, my whole department will fall into a larger mess and that causes some feelings of conflict within me.

Should my colleague quitting affect when I want to leave too? How do I go about quitting now?”

We can definitely empathize with this – it’s really uncomfortable, sometimes sad, and hard to be in a position where we feel we are underpaid and we aren’t happy.

So, how can you navigate a situation like this? How do you figure out if you should just quit your job? How can you be an adult about this?

Here are some exploratory questions, ideas, and some design thinking activities to help you answer this question for yourself.

  • Before you up and quit, assuming you don’t yet have your next opportunity lined up, have you considered asking for a raise – or better yet, figure out how you add value to the organization? Would your supervisor be willing to move you in to a new role or offer additional compensation?
  • If you don’t have a job lined up, do you have the recommended AT LEAST six months of living expenses in your savings account? Some would recommend that you have even more during a global pandemic where unemployment is at an all-time high – it may take longer to find a new position.
  • Do you have a safety net of family or friends that are willing and able to help you with your bills if you don’t have your regular paycheck? Would you be willing to put that burden on them so you can quit your job?
  • Why aren’t you job searching if you are unhappy? Is it because the task seems daunting and the idea of interviewing right now makes you want to puke?
  • What would your ideal job be and what would it take for you to go for it?

Many people claim they don’t like their job but they don’t know what to do next or even worse, don’t know what they WANT to do. To offer a little bit of tough love here: Well, then, that’s your job to figure it out. You can go on Reddit all you want, but no one else can tell you what is right for you.

Here are some ways to explore what may be an exciting career move for you or help you identify some areas that you need to learn more about in order to figure out where work will align with your skills, interests, and passions.

  1. Consider ordering the Design Your Life Workbook that provides writing prompts to help you figure out what it is that you are looking for in a job/career. You may also like the book Designing Your Work Life which is about “How to Thrive and Change and Find Happiness at Work”.
  2. Utilize design thinking to answer some of your questions. Make a diamond shape and in each of the four corners, write out the “Who” you want to be working with, “What” you’d like to be doing, “Where” you’d like to be, and “Why” you want to be there or doing that kind of work.
  3. Conduct informational interviews with people doing work that you think you might be interested in. Usually these conversations give you lots of interesting insights and either a green light to pursue something or validation that maybe that role isn’t right for you either.
  4. Get your resume updated. Sometimes just dusting off your resume, updating it, and making it ready gives you a feeling of relief that if you did really want to pursue a new job, you are almost ready. Consider updating your LinkedIn profile as well.
  5. Explore what you can do differently. A lot of what we can be frustrated about can be related to things out of our control. Consider exploring ways to work better with your team or how to grow to become invaluable. Tune in to Lindsey Pollak’s podcast, The Work Remix, where she gives great ideas on how to navigate working in current times where there are five generations in the workplace. There may be ways you need to adjust your communication style or tune in to emotional intelligence on how to better work with your supervisor or employees. Again, focus on what is within your control.

You may decide that you need to quit your job to be able to focus your energy on finding a better fit for you. But at the same time, be realistic. Most of us have to work to live. Everyone has bills, so you may continue working while you sort out some of the other factors to help you find a more exciting prospect. Either way, wishing you all the best on this journey, and the time and patience to allow you to figure it out.

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Opinion Editorials

New USPS duck-shaped truck design has mixed reactions

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) The USPS is getting a fleet of electronic delivery vehicles. We’re wondering if the actual design got lost in the mail.

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New USPS truck in a fictional neighborhood delivering mail.

So the USPS is getting new trucks and they look like ducks and maybe that sucks… or maybe it wucks. Like “works,” if a duck said it. Just give me this one please.

Anyway.

I don’t know how mean I can be here – there has to be something said for objective journalistic integrity – but I have a feeling most people are going to have a rather sarcastic reaction to the new design. I’m not so sure I can blame them – it has a kind of stubby little nose with a shortened hood and a boxy frame and super tall windshield, which gives the wheels a disproportionately large look compared to the rest of the silhouette. It’s sort of like a Nissan Cube but less millennial cool, which A) is discontinued (so maybe not so cool), and B) is not the car that had those giant hiphop hamsters running around, but I’m still going to link to it anyway.

Elon Musk must be breathing a sigh of relief right now.

The contract was awarded to Oshkosh Defense (which I was thrilled to find out is NOT the adorable kid’s clothing company, even though I personally think that would be hilarious if there was a factory making overalls for tiny humans alongside tactical defense trucks) and officially announced on February 23rd, 2021 to the tune of $482 million. Seriously though, someone is going to mix those up for the rest of all time and eternity; I’d never not think about my own baby pictures if some contractor from Oshkosh Defense showed up.

The release mentions that, “The historic investment is part of a soon-to-be-released plan the Postal Service has developed to transform its financial performance and customer service over the next 10 years through significant investments in people, technology and infrastructure as it seeks to become the preferred delivery service provider for the American public.” It’s called the NGDV – Next Generation Delivery Vehicle, which I happen to adore, and will pronounce as Nugduv, and you can’t stop me anyway. The old one was called the Grumman, by the way.

Some credit this as a radical change, and keeping in mind that radical doesn’t necessarily denote positive or negative, it seems like the perfect word to use here. Then there are those who correctly identify “a mixed bag of responses,” sort of like when you get a bag of candy at Halloween that has at least one thing no one likes. Some call it strange, while others defend it as something every new big vehicle should look like (this is where – as one of many – I found it called a “duck” which oh man do I love, quack quack).

We can also hit up the ever fair public opinion of Twitter, because why wouldn’t we?

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This is how I would draw a car. That is not a plus for this design

I really can’t get over that last one. But I mean, whoa. That’s quite the spectrum. There’s less disagreement on pizza toppings I think. But luckily I think we’re safe there – Domino’s makes people drive their personal cars.

Taking a step back and putting snide commentary away for a moment, there’s some areas that should be discussed. First – and what should probably be obvious – there was a laundry list of requirements and restrictions from the USPS, which made Nir Kahn – design director from custom carmaker Plasan – offer up his own tweets that give some insight on dimensions and design:

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I was involved in an early proposal for the USPS truck so I know the requirements well. They pretty much dictated the proportions – this package sketch shows that to meet the ergonomic and size requirements, there wasn’t much freedom 1/2 #USPS pic.twitter.com/Fk35g98Z83

Kahn mentions that “there wasn’t much freedom,” but also that “it could have looked much better,” and this sort of underlines the entire discussion I think – there were goals in place, and possibly some more aesthetically pleasing ways to meet them, but the constraints won out and drove (hehe) the design more than style did.

Certainly, there are other concerns – the ability for USPS drivers to reach a mailbox while seated is paramount. Others have pointed out that this design – with its large windshield and shortened front – should help with safety around small children (all the better if they are wearing Oshkosh B’gosh, because that implies they are tiny and may not be at all concerned with the dangers of streets). The open field-of-vision will aid in making sure drivers can navigate places that might be frequented by any number of pedestrians, so that’s a plus.

Further, if you get struck by one of these, you’ll basically “just” get kneecapped versus taking it square to the torso. The duck article is the one making this call, and I think there’s some merit there (though it makes me question how the USPS fleet is going to do against the SUVs and big trucks out in the wild). It then goes on to point out that this design has more cargo space, fitting into the idea of “rightsizing,” where the form and function of the vehicle meet in a way that is downsized, but still punches above its weight.

“From smaller fire engines to nimbler garbage trucks, making vehicles better scaled to urban tasks can make a huge difference, not only for keeping other cars moving on narrow streets, but also to ensure that humans on those same streets can access the bike lanes, sidewalks, and curb cuts they need to get around.”

I didn’t try too hard to find stats on crashes in mail trucks, but seems like something that should be addressed.

Maybe the biggest point here is that we sort of have to get new trucks – they are outliving their 24 year expectancy and catching on fire. On FIRE. I mean a mail truck might be the worst place for a fire. I’m not even sure I can’t think up a better answer… Ok maybe toilets would be worse.

The new vehicles can be either petrol or electric powered, have 360 cameras, airbags, and automatic braking. Oh, and air conditioning, which the old vehicles did not have. So yes, literally the worst place to have a fire. But due to the taller vehicles, someone can stand in them now! So escape is even easier! Hooray!

A series of delays pushed back the introduction of new vehicles from their 2018 projected date, with poor initial prototypes and the pandemic being major setbacks. Aggressive bidding led to extended deadlines, which had been narrowed down to a small list of candidates that included Workhorse (who unfortunately suffered a large stock plunge following the announcement). It’s been in the works for at least six years.

In the end, I don’t think we can discount all the advantages here – more efficient vehicles that are safer and provide drivers with modern amenities. That’s a LOT of good. I think once the initial goofy shock is over, the design will be accepted. Everyone thought Nintendo’s Wii was a hilarious name (still pretty much is regardless of being in the public book of acceptable nomenclature), and Cybertruck sales are brisk, so I think we can set a lot of this aside. The Edsel these are not.

So hey, new USPS vehicles in 2023, like an exceedingly late birthday present. All I want to see is a bunch of baby ducks following one of them around oh please let that happen. The USPS kind of has an identity crisis in the modern era, so maybe a funny little cute silly boxmobile is just the right way to get some attention.

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Opinion Editorials

Declutter your quarantine workspace (and brain)

(EDITORIAL) Can’t focus? Decluttering your workspace can help you increase productivity, save money, and reduce stress.

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decluttering

It’s safe to say that we’ve all been spending a lot more time in our homes these last few months. This leads us to fixate on the things we didn’t have time for before – like a loose doorknob, or an un-alphabetized bookshelf, or that we’ve put off ‘declutter’ on our to-do list for too long.

The same goes for our workspaces. Many of us have had to designate a spot at home to use for work purposes. For those of you who still need to remain on-site, you’ve likely been too busy to focus on your surroundings.

Cleaning and organizing your workspace every so often is important, regardless of the state of the world, and with so much out of our control right now, this is one of the few things we can control.

Whether you’re working from a home office or an on-site office, take some time for quarantine decluttering. According to The Washington Post, taking time to declutter can increase your productivity, lower stress, and save money (I don’t know about you, but just reading those 3 things makes me feel better already).

Clutter can cause us to feel overwhelmed and make us feel a bit frazzled. Having an office space filled with piles of paper containing irrelevant memos from five years ago or 50 different types of pens, has got to go – recycle that mess and reduce your stress. The same goes with clearing files from your computer; everything will run faster.

Speaking of running faster, decluttering and creating a cleaner workspace will also help you be more efficient and productive. Build this habit by starting small: try tidying up a bit at the end of every workday, setting yourself up for a ready-to-roll morning.

Cleaning also helps you take stock of stuff that you have so that you don’t end up buying more of it. Create a designated spot for your tools and supplies so that they’re more visible – this way, you’ll always know what you have and what needs to be replenished. This will help you stop buying more of the same product that you already have and save you money.

So, if you’ve been looking to improve your focus and clearing a little bit of that ‘quarantine brain’, start by getting your workspace in order. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to declutter and be “out with the old”; you may even be inspired to do the same for your whole house. Regardless, doing this consistently will create a positive shift in your life, increasing productivity, reducing stress, and saving you money.

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