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Zillow continues to build their patent collection – looking back, is anyone surprised?

(REAL ESTATE CORPORATIONS) The real estate giant Zillow continues the trend of the last decade and even adds another four patents to their ever growing patent collection.

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Overhead of farm home on Zillow, where a patent may be held.

In 2006 Zillow, the online real estate marketplace company, hit the world scene. Little did we know that this little website would explode over the last 15 years into the massive business venture it is now. Total assets in 2019 reached up to $6.1 billion. The founders, Rich Barton & Lloyd Frink, have been building this company from the ground up, pulling in new acquisitions and pursuing new avenues of revenue. Always adventuring into the next frontier of real-estate, and taking a patent or four along the way.

In a new move that surprised real-estate moguls around the country, Zillow Mobile was developed and they began creating mobile applications (listed below). However, I don’t think anyone expected what this would lead to in 2018.

  • April 29th, 2009 – iPhone Application
  • March 18th, 2010 – Android Application
  • April 2nd, 2010 – iPad Application
  • March 31st, 2011 – Blackberry Application
  • July 13th, 2012 – Windows Phone Application
  • November 27th, 2013 – Windows 8.1 Application
  • November 2015 – Apple TV Application

Once these apps were in place Zillow announced some news that would rock the real-estate world, Zillow Offers. The app provides a unique position for the company to directly purchase a seller’s home from them and do all the work to sell. Completely eliminating the go between aspect of the job. In the first year of this and leading into 2020, the company took a massive hit to their revenue because of the front end of purchasing all of this property.

Zillow 2.0 is still holding strong however. The current CEO Rich Barton is not worried about the downswing. He has been molded in the world of business over the years, having learned about the benefits of “risk that is tempered” while he founded/co-founded Expedia and Glassdoor. This business guru is a force to be reckoned with.

These highly aggressive tactics don’t just stop at the purchasing arena either. Over the last 15 years the business has acquired 21 patents. The patents in recent years are starting hedge competitors into a tight spot. Listed below are some of the more recent patents that have been cleared.

1. “Automated Control of Image Acquisition Via Use of Mobile Device User Interface” – Filing Date 8/21/2020

  • Techniques are described for using computing devices to perform automated operations to control acquisition of images in a defined area, including obtaining and using data from one or more hardware sensors on a mobile device that is acquiring the images, analyzing the sensor data (e.g., in a real-time manner) to determine the geometric orientation of the mobile device in three-dimensional (3D) space, and using that determined orientation to control the acquisition of further images by the mobile device. In some situations, the determined orientation information may be used in part to automatically generate and display a corresponding GUI (graphical user interface) that is overlaid on and augments displayed images of the environment surrounding the mobile device during the image acquisition process, so as to control the mobile device’s geometric orientation in 3D space.

2. “Estimating the value of property in a manner sensitive to nearby value-affecting geographic features” – Filing Date 7/7/2014

  • A facility for determining an estimated value of a home is described. The facility applies a first valuation model that is insensitive to value-affecting geographic features near the home to obtain a first valuation. The facility applies a second valuation model that is sensitive to value-affecting geographic features near the home to obtain a second valuation. The facility combines the first and second valuations to obtain an estimated value of the home.

3. “Automatically determining a current value for a real estate property, such as a home, that is tailored to input from a human user, such as its owner Utility Patent Grant (B2)” – Filing Date 9/4/2015

  • A facility procuring information about a distinguished property from a user knowledgeable about the distinguished property that is usable to refine an automatic valuation of the distinguished property is described. The facility displays information about the distinguished property used in the automatic valuation of the distinguished property. The facility obtains user input from of the user adjusting at least one aspect of information about the distinguished property used in the automatic valuation of the distinguished property. On a later the day, facility displays to the user a refined valuation of the distinguished property that is based on the adjustment of the obtained user input.

4. Providing Simulated Lighting Information for 3D Building Models – Filed Date 4/6/2020

  • Techniques are described for using computing devices to perform automated operations related to, with respect to a computer model of a house or other building’s interior, generating and displaying simulated lighting information in the model based on sunlight or other external light that is estimated to enter the building and be visible in particular rooms of the interior under specified conditions, such as using ambient occlusion and light transport matrix calculations. The computer model may be a 3D (three-dimensional) or 2.5D representation that is generated after the house is built and that shows physical components of the actual house’s interior (e.g., walls), and may be displayed to a user of a client computing device in a displayed GUI (graphical user interface) via which the user specifies conditions for which the simulated lighting display is generated.

But what do these patents do to the market? They are cornering their position as THE online real estate company. The stranglehold on any competitors is going to be hard to fight. The numerous patents typically tend to revolve around automated or multi-faceted searching and pricing on people homes. One of the newest ones actually takes images and translates into pricing.

This patent trolling technique is definitely something to take into account for other companies. This way, businesses hold their top place is to sue people into the ground with scrupulous patent lawsuits based on patent law. They throw red tape and paper on top of new competitors to drown them in fees before they can actually become competitive. Personally, I find it disgusting but from what I’ve learned, that’s capitalism at its finest. Beat them down with paper so you can stay on top.

Robert Raney is a geoscientist whose been writing and painting for years to get his creative fix in. While working on his thesis in theoretical planetary physics he was also creating fantastical worlds on paper for fun. He's an at home Texan Houstonite who currently works slinging drinks at a local LGBTQ+ bar in the gayborhood, when not fielding oil & gas jobs that have taken him around the world.

Real Estate Corporate

This Zillow patent application is WILD, threatens entire real estate industry

(NEWS) Zillow has applied for another patent on their mission to outgun the entire real estate industry – will the government grant them yet another win?

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Zillow has added yet another crippling entry to their long list of patent grabs, this time focusing on a computation model that emphasizes 360-degree videos’ role in creating floor maps.

The patent, if granted, would give Zillow domain over the process of recording, analyzing, and presenting such videos in conjunction with real estate services.

The official title of the patent is “Generating Floor Maps For Buildings From Automated Analysis Of Visual Data Of The Buildings’ Interiors,” leaving little to the imagination: The respective processes of creating, analyzing, and sharing those floor maps all fall under the heading of the patent.

The patent also specifies “automated operations” in the abstract, implying that the method of capture all the way through analysis and sharing could be performed automatically via the aforementioned “computing devices.”

Zillow clearly intends to use the results of this process for both further development of their automation (“controlling navigation of devices”) and for customer use while viewing properties virtually (“display on client devices in corresponding GUIs”).

The videos themselves can be “continuous” in that they are recorded by a camera moving seamlessly through the house from room to room; similarly, the videos may be “acquired without obtaining any other information about a depth from the path to any surfaces in the house,” resulting in what one might identify as the modern equivalent of a virtual tour.

The end result of such a video, at least for clients, is the ability to view and control an uninterrupted sequence of movement through a property. At any given time, the client could theoretically pause and “look around” using the 360-degree controls; this process would, ultimately, simulate actual movement through the home.

Naturally, this patent is worrying for the same reason Zillow’s past patents have been problematic: It’s too broad.

360-degree video is an obvious choice for real estate services looking to create a virtual experience that is interchangeable with an in-person tour, and–between accessibility issues and social distancing protocols of the last year–it’s an increasingly necessary option for real estate providers who want to stay afloat.

If Zillow is able to secure this patent, competitors will have to find another way to create their virtual tours–one that, in the ever-tightening web of options not proprietary to Zillow, is sure to drive even the most loyal clients into Zillow’s patent-snatching arms.

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Real Estate Corporate

Zillow’s overly generic patent application is further proof they could be suing you soon

(REAL ESTATE) Zillow has been on a patent rampage in recent years, and this most recent application is so wildly generic, we would laugh, but the government has a track record of approving their every wish, making all other real estate sites vulnerable to lawsuits.

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Zillow has, at this point, demonstrated an apt propensity for setting themselves up as future patent trolls and the U.S. Patent Office has been generous in granting their every last wish. It should come as no large surprise, then, that their latest endeavor to monopolize real estate searches comprises presentation of visual information by way of computation and other common factors – something that will further the real estate giant’s ubiquity in online markets.

The patent application itself describes, in detail, the practice of creating a three-dimensional model of a property, though a “2.5D representation” stipulation is also included in the patent.

The patent also mentions that the model may be “generated after the house is built” in order to display information about the inside of the property, and this generated model “may be displayed to a user of a client computing device in a displayed GUI with various user-selectable controls.”

Additionally, the patent describes the manner in which this model can be displayed, with references to a single, large pane that shows the interior of the house alongside smaller, “additional separate GUI pane(s)” that complement the information shown in the “first pane of the GUI.”

This attention to the use of “panes” and the order in which they are formatted has appeared in prior Zillow patents as well, the end result being a rapidly decreasing number of ways in which competing real estate sites can display similar information.

But the patent application doesn’t stop there.

The computational technology (referred to as “A system comprising: one or more hardware processors of one or more computing systems; and one or more memories with stored instructions”) is also mentioned, with explicit details regarding the process followed by the technology upon submission of a request by a user.

A key word in this section of the application is “automated” as it pertains to a search query.

Attempting to patent search engine automation does a better job of demonstrating just how generic this patent grab really is than perhaps anything else in the application.

Other key elements of the patent application include the ability to “navigate” through a property in a virtual model of the house or structure, simulated lighting as a part of the model, and more details about how this information is processed via mobile device.

Should Zillow manage to snag this patent, the results could be catastrophic for competing real estate sites, both search and brokerage.

Being able to show users an isometric model of a property while showcasing the floorplan is a highly convenient (and existing) feature of many real estate sites; by relegating it to Zillow and Zillow alone, those other sites will have to find new (and less-convenient) ways in which to showcase their properties, lest the Zillow patent troll sue them.

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Real Estate Corporate

Zillow prepares to face the music, real estate agents have had enough

(REAL ESTATE CORPORATE) Zillow has made enough of a rumble in real estate circles that some agencies are fighting back, alleging everything from deception to fully illegal conduct.

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Real estate agent shaking hands with couple over a For Sale sign marked sold from Zillow

Zillow has made headlines in the past few months, though not exactly for their charity work. Between patent trolling and general steamrolling of smaller real estate businesses, the multibillion-dollar company is well on its way to becoming a monopoly—and a couple of people have had enough, as evidenced by emerging lawsuits targeting Zillow.

One lawsuit, originating in Connecticut, comes both from and on behalf of realtors who are tired of not being represented in Zillow’s agent results. The lawsuit claims that clients are being redirected to agents who have inserted themselves into Zillow’s search results.

“A prohibitive majority of homebuyers — 80% or more — use Zillow in the process of looking for a home,” the lawsuit explains. “This market dominance gives defendant the power to tilt the real-world playing field in favor of its own favored customers. These are Premier Agents.”

Premier Agents are, as alleged by the lawsuit, agents who pay a fee to Zillow in order to “be associated with properties which they do not have a listing relationship with.” The lawsuit also alleges that the majority of people who use the website “are unaware that they are being funneled to agents who paid a fee to Zillow to cause this to happen.”

In other words, Zillow is taking payments from agents and, in turn, giving them priority over properties without giving users the chance to opt out—which is illegal.

And, interestingly enough, a second real estate agency—Real Estate Exchange, or REX—is suing Zillow for similar reasons, claiming that both Zillow and Trulia are exempting real estate agents who do not belong to the NAR from search results. The lawsuit alleges that, while non-NAR agents can be found on both websites, their listings have been “relegated to a ‘hidden tab’” to clear the way for NAR agents.

The Connecticut lawsuit also outlines further the process that Zillow uses for their Premier Agents: “a prospective buyer is drawn to the defendant’s [Zillow’s] website for its stated purpose of making it easier to find a home to buy, but it is not evident to the prospective buyer that defendant is more interested in connecting that consumer with a broker who has paid a fee to defendant.”

Meanwhile, REX’s lawsuit says that Zillow “recently joined NAR-affiliated MLSs and adopted their associational rules to conceal all non-MLS listings on Zillow’s heavily trafficked websites.” This led to the current complaint wherein “non-MLS listings [are] accessible only via a recessed, obscured, and deceptive tab that consumers do not see, and even professional real estate agents find deceiving.”

Both lawsuits clearly focus on the deception of customers, a failure to disclose this deception, abuse of either the MLS or customer trust in recommended real estate listings, and a general erosion of credibility on Zillow’s part. They also, in summary, allege that Zillow has not given all listings and connected realtors a fair shake in the process.

Zillow did respond to REX’s lawsuit, saying that the claims were “without merit” and declaring their intent to “vigorously defend ourselves against it.”

But if these lawsuits are successful, they could set a hopeful precedent for those looking to fight back against Zillow’s impropriety.

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