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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

The truth about unemployment from someone who’s been through it

(EDITORIAL) Unemployment benefits aren’t what you thought they were. Here’s a first-hand experience and what you need to know.

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Have I ever told you how I owed the government over two grand because of unemployment in 2019, and only just finished paying it back this year?

This isn’t exactly the forum for memoirs, but this is relevant to everyone. So I’ll tell y’all anyway.

It all started back in 2018 when I came into work early, microwaved my breakfast, poured coffee, and got pulled into a collaboration room to hear, “We love you and your work, April, but we’ve been bought out and you’re being laid off.”

It was kind of awkward carrying my stuff out to the car with that Jimmy Dean sandwich in my mouth.

More awkward still was the nine months of unemployment I went through afterwards. Between the fully clothed shower crying, the stream of job denial, catering to people who carried rocks in their nostrils at my part-time job (yes, ew, yes, really), and almost dying of no-health-insurance-itis, I learned a lot!

The bigger lesson though, came in the spring of the following year when I filed my taxes. I should back up for a moment and take the time to let those of you unfamiliar with unemployment in Texas in on a few things that aren’t common knowledge.

1: You’re only eligible if you were laid off. Not if you had quit. Not fired. Your former company can also choose to challenge your eligibility for benefits if they didn’t like your face on the way out. So the only way you’re 100% guaranteed to get paid in (what the state calls) “a timely manner”, is a completely amicable split.

2: Overpayments have to go back. Immediately. If there’s an error, like several thousand of Texans found out this week, the government needs that cash back before you can access any more. If you’re not watching your bank account to make sure you’re getting the exact same check each time and you have an overpayment, rest assured that mistake isn’t going to take long to correct. Unfortunately, if you spent that money unknowingly–thought you got an ‘in these uncertain times’ kinder and gentler adjustment and have 0 income, you have a problem. Tying into Coronavirus nonsense is point three!

3: There are no sick days. If ever you’re unable to work for any reason, be it a car accident, childbirth, horrible internal infection (see also no-health-insurance-itis), you are legally required to report it, and you will not be paid for any days you were incapacitated. Personally, my no-health-insurance-itis came with a bad fever and bedrest order that axed me out of my part time job AND killed my unemployment benefits for the week I spent getting my internal organs to like me again. But as it turned out, the payment denial came at the right time because–

4: Unemployment benefits are finite. Even if you choose to lie on your request forms about how hard you’re searching for work, coasting is ill-advised because once the number the state allots you runs out…it’s out. Don’t lie on your request forms, by the way. In my case, since I got cut from my part-time gig, I got a call from the Texas Workforce Commission about why my hours were short. I was able to point out where I’d reported my sickness to them and to my employer, so my unpaid week rolled over to a later request date. I continued to get paid right up until my hiring date which was also EXACTLY when my benefits ran out.

Unemployment isn’t a career, which is odd considering the fact that unemployment payments are qualified by the government as income.

Ergo, fact number five…

5: Your benefits? They’re taxed.

That’s right, you will be TAXED for not having a job.

The stereotype of the ‘lazy unemployment collector burdening society’ should be fading pretty quickly for the hitherto uninformed about now.

To bring it back to my story, I’d completely forgotten that when I filed for unemployment in the first place, I’d asked for my taxes NOT to be withheld from it–assuming that I wasn’t going to be searching for full time work for very long. I figured “Well, I’ll have a tax refund coming since I’ll get work again no problem, it’ll cancel out.”

Except, it was a problem. Because of the nine month situation.

I’d completely forgotten about it by the time I threw myself into my new job, but after doing my taxes, triple checking the laws and what I’d signed, it was clear. Somehow…despite being at my lowest point in life, I owed the highest amount in taxes, somewhere around the 2k mark.

Despite being based on a system that’s tied to how much income you were getting before, and all the frustrating “safeguards” put in place to keep payments as low and infrequent as possible, Uncle Sam still wants a bite out of the gas-station Hostess pie that is your unemployment check. And as I’m writing this, more and more people are finding that out.

I’d like to end this on a more positive note…so let’s say we’ve all been positively educated! That’s a net gain, surely.

Keep your heads up, and masked.

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Opinion Editorials

COVID-19 acts are unfortunately too short sighted

(BUSINESS NEWS) The biggest flaw in the CARES act is simply that it won’t last. Numerous issues have extended the life of COVID-19 but the act hasn’t matched it.

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rev pay issues act

The CARES act gives an additional $600 weekly to those on unemployment assistance. The idea being that, combined with the $380 already granted by unemployment, the payments would roughly equal the wage of the average worker prior to the pandemic- about $1,000 weekly.

But on July 31st, the expansion that CARES provides will expire, and benefits will return to pre-pandemic amounts. Those currently receiving the maximum payment will see a 61% decrease in their income. In states that offer lower benefit payments, that percentage goes even higher. All of this comes during a national rental crisis, and moratoriums on evictions across the country are also nearing their ends or being extended last minute.

This isn’t the first or only “yuge” hole in the federal government’s COVID-19 safety net. Many Americans (this writer included) have seen neither hide nor hair of their promised stimulus checks. The HEROES act, which is being billed as a second round of stimulus money, remains under debate- as it has been for several weeks.

And the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which requires certain businesses to provide two weeks of paid leave to workers who may be sick (or caring for someone who is) has plenty of problems too, namely the laundry list of exceptions to it.

This is just the most recent push to return to the pre-virus economy before effective protective measures have been put in place for workers and consumers alike. After all, with cases of COVID-19 spiking again in the US, it’s apparent that the act is still absolutely necessary. Our lawmakers either lack patience, or compassion – take your pick. Frankly, I say it’s both.

Not only have countless health experts warned that reopening too early will be disastrous, but if a second lockdown is in our future, all of the time, money, and human lives that went into reopening will be wasted.

There is a silver lining among the storm clouds on the horizon. Because ballooning unemployment has created long wait times for benefit applicants, unemployment assistance programs are shelling out retroactive back payments to those deemed eligible.

Good news, at least, for laid off workers who have been waiting months to hear their fate.

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Opinion Editorials

Women-owned businesses make up 42% of all businesses – heck yeah!

(EDITORIAL) Women-owned businesses make a huge impact on the U.S economy. They make up 42% of all businesses, outpace the national growth rate by 50%, and hire billions of workers.

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Women entrepreneurs make history in the U.S as female-owned businesses represent 42% of all businesses, while continuing to increase at DOUBLE the national growth rate!

Women are running the world, and we are here for it! The 2019 American Express State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, states 13 million women are now self-employed entrepreneurs. From 2014 to 2019, women-owned businesses grew 21%. Think that’s impressive? Well, businesses owned by women of color grew 43% within the same timeframe, with a growth rate of 50%, and currently account for 50% of all women-owned businesses! Way to go! What this also means is that women employ over 2.4 million workers who together generate $422.5 billion in revenue.

What can we learn from these women that’ll help you achieve success in your businesses?

  1. Get informed: In a male-dominated business industry, women are often at a disadvantage and face multiple biases. So, know your stuff; study, research, and when you think you know it all…dig deeper!
  2. Stay hungry: Remember why you started this journey. Write down notes and reminders, goals, and inspirations, hang them up and keep them close.
  3. Ask for advice: Life is not meant to go through alone, so ask questions. Find a mentor and talk to people who have walked a similar path. Learning from them will only benefit your business.

Many of these women found ways to use their passion to drive their business. It may not be exactly what they thought it would be when they started out, but is it ever? Everyone has to start off small and rejection is part of the process. In fact, stories of rejection often serve as inspiration and encouragement to soon-to-be self starters.

Did you know J.K Rowling’s “Harry Potter” book was turned down TWELVE times? Seven books later with over 400 million copies sold, the Harry Potter brand is currently valued at over 15 billion. While you might not become a wizard-writing fantasy legend like J.K Rowling, you sure as heck can be successful. So go for it, and chase your dreams.

If you want to support women-owned businesses, start by scrolling through Facebook or doing some research to find women-owned businesses in your community. Then, support by buying or helping to promote their products. Small businesses, especially women-owned, black women-owned, and women of color-owned, are disproportionally affected by the current economic crisis ignited by a health pandemic. So if you can, shop small and support local. And remember, there’s a girl (or more) doing a happy dance when you checkout!

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