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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

Strong leaders can use times of crises to improve their company’s future

(EDITORIAL) In the COVID-19 crisis, some leaders fumbled through it, while others quietly safeguarded their company’s future.

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strong leaders

Anthony J. Algmin is the Founder and CEO of Algmin Data Leadership, a company helping business and technology leaders transform their future with data, and author of a new book on data leadership. We asked for his insights on how strong leaders can see their teams, their companies, and their people through this global pandemic (and other crises in the future). The following are his own words:

Managers sometimes forget that the people we lead have lives outside of the office. This is true always but is amplified when a crisis occurs. We need to remember that our job is to serve their teams, to help them be as aligned and productive as possible in the short and long terms.

Crises are exactly when we need to think about what they might be going through, and realize that the partnership we have with our employees is more than a transaction. If we’ve ever asked our people to make sacrifices, like working over a weekend without extra pay, we should be thinking first about how we can support them through the tough times. When we do right by people when they really need it, they will run through walls again for our organizations when things return to normal.

Let them know it’s okay to breathe and talk about it. In a situation like COVID-19 where everything was disrupted and people are adjusting to things like working from home, it is naturally going to be difficult and frustrating.

The best advice is to encourage people to turn off the TV and stop frequently checking the news websites. As fast as news is happening, it will not make a difference in what we can control ourselves. Right now most of us know what our day will look like, and nothing that comes out in the news is going to materially change it. If we avoid the noisy inputs, we’ll be much better able to focus and get our brains to stop spinning on things we can’t control.

And this may be the only time I would advocate for more meetings. If you don’t have at least a daily standup with your team, you should. And encourage everyone to have a video-enabled setup if at all possible. We may not be able to be in the same room, but the sense of engagement with video is much greater than audio-only calls.

We also risk spiraling if we think too much about how our companies are struggling, or if our teams cannot achieve what our organizations need to be successful. It’s like the difference in sports between practice and the big game. Normal times are when leaders game plan, strategize, and work on our fundamentals. Crises are the time to focus and leave it all on the field.

That said, do not fail to observe and note what works well and where you struggle. If you had problems with data quality or inefficient processes before the crisis, you are not fixing them now. Pull out the duct tape and find a way through it. But later, when the crisis subsides, learn from the experience and get better for next time.

Find a hobby. Anything you can do to clear your head and separate work from the other considerations in your life. We may feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, and without a pressure release we will not be able to sustain this level of stress and remain as productive as our teams, businesses, and families need us.

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Opinion Editorials

7 sure-fire ways to carve out alone time when you’re working from home

(EDITORIAL) It can be easy to forget about self-care when you’re working from home, but it’s critical for your mental health, and your work quality.

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Woman in hijab sitting on couch, working from home on a laptop

We are all familiar with the syndrome, getting caught up in work, chores, taking care of others, and neglecting to take care of ourselves in the meantime. This has always been the case, but now, with more people working from home and a seemingly endless lineup of chores, thanks to the pandemic. There is simply so much to do.

The line is thinly drawn between personal and professional time already, with emails, cell phones, and devices relentlessly reaching out around the clock, pulling at us like zombie arms reaching up from the grave. Working from home makes this tendency to always be “on” worse, as living and working take place in such close proximity. We have to turn it off, though.

Our brains and bodies need downtime, me-time, and self-care. Carving out this time is one of the kindest and most important things you can do for yourself. If we can begin to honor ourselves like this, the outcome with not only our mental and physical health but also our productivity at work will be beneficial. When we make the time to do things we love, our mind’s gears slow down that constant grinding. Burnout behooves nobody.

Our work will also benefit. Healthier, happier, more well-rested, and well-treated minds and bodies can work wonders! Our immune systems also need this, and we need our immune systems to be at their peak performance this intense season.

I wanted to write this article because I have such a struggle with this in my own life. I need to print it out and put it in my workspace. Last week, I posted something on my social media pages that so many people shared. It is clear we all need these reminders, so I am paying it forward here. The graphic was a quote from Devyn W.

“If you are reading this, release your shoulders away from your ears, unclench your jaw, and drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth.”

There now, isn’t that remarkable? It is a great first step. Let go of the tension in your body, and check out these ways to make yourself some healing me-time while working from home.

  1. Set aside strict no-work times. This could be any time of day, but set the times and adhere to them strictly. This may look like taking a full hour for lunch, not checking email after a certain hour, or committing to spending that time outdoors, reading, exercising, or enjoying the company of your loved ones. Make this a daily routine, because we need these boundaries. Every. Single. Day.
  2. Remember not to apologize to anyone for taking this me-time. Mentally and physically you need this, and everyone will be better off if you do. It is nothing to apologize for! Building these work-free hours into your daily schedule will feel more normal as time goes on. This giving of time and space to your joy, health, and even basic human needs is what should be the norm, not the other way around.
  3. Give yourself a device-free hour or two every day, especially before bedtime. The pinging, dinging, and blinging keep us on edge. Restful sleep is one of the wonderful ways our bodies and brains heal and putting devices away before bedtime is one of the quick tips for getting better sleep.
  4. Of course, make time for the things you absolutely love. If this is a hot bath, getting a massage, reading books, working out, cooking or eating an extravagant meal, or talking and laughing with a loved one, you have to find a way to get this serotonin boost!
  5. Use the sunshine shortcut. It isn’t a cure-all, but sunlight and Vitamin D are mood boosters. At least when it’s not 107 degrees, like in a Texas summer. But as a general rule, taking in at least a good 10-15 minutes of that sweet, sweet Vitamin D provided by the sun is good for us.
  6. Spend time with animals! Walk your dog, shake that feathery thing at your cat, or snuggle either one. Whatever animals make you smile, spend time with them. If you don’t have pets of your own, you could volunteer to walk them at a local shelter or even watch a cute animal video online. They are shown to reduce stress. Best case scenario is in person if you are able, but thankfully the internet is bursting with adorable animal videos, as a backup.
  7. Give in to a bit of planning or daydreaming about a big future trip. Spending time looking at all the places you will go in the future and even plotting out an itinerary are usually excellent mood-boosters.

I hope we can all improve our lives while working from home by making time for regenerating, healing, and having fun! Gotta run—the sun is out, and my dog is begging for a walk.

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Opinion Editorials

The one easy job interview question that often trips up applicants

(EDITORIAL) The easiest interview questions can be the hardest to answer, don’t let this one trip you up – come prepared!

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Women sitting nervously representing waiting for a remote job interview.

A job interview is tough, and preparing for them can seem impossible. There are some questions you can expect: what is your experience in this position? How would you handle this situation? And so on.

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But what about this question: what makes you happy? Though it may seem straightforward, getting to the right answer is not such an easy path.

Work engagement

According to research, less and less employees feel like they are truly engaged at work. Some blame the work environment but truth be told, it is not a company’s responsibility to make you happy.

Without a passion for what you are doing, you will never enjoy the job.

It is the best case for everyone. More engaged workers are more productive in addition to feeling like they serve a purpose.

Do your due diligence

So before finding yourself in an interview where you have to take an awkward pause before answering this question, the best thing is to do some research. It all starts with the job search.

When looking for a job it is easy to get caught up in high profile company names and perks.

For instance, although “Social Media Coordinator” may not be your thing, the position is open at the cool advertising agency downtown. Or perhaps the company offers flexible hours and free lunch Fridays. The problem is that these perks aren’t worth it in the long run. Working for a cool company can be exciting at first, but it is not sustainable without passion for the position.

It’s important to pay attention to is the position you are applying for.

Is this work that you are passionate about? Take a look at the job responsibilities and functions. Besides figuring out if those are things that you can do, ask yourself if they are things that you want to do. Is this an opportunity that will match your strengths and give you purpose?

Let your passion protrude

With all things considered, when asked “what makes you happy” at the next interview, you will be able to answer honestly. Your passion will be apparent without having to put on an act.

Even if they don’t ask that question, there is no downside to knowing what makes you happy.

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