In yet another obscenely broad patent application, Zillow is aiming for ownership of the ability to fill out “transactional documents” electronically.
The official patent application describes “generating electronic transactional documents using a form generating system” and “using a design tool that allows a user to place data entry fields over an image or snapshot of a transactional document.”
If that sounds familiar, it’s because virtually every website that allows customers to e-sign anything already does this. Some concerns also address the fact that services such as DocuSign – a service in which both Google and NAR invested – and even Google Forms might fall under this category.
Should Zillow see this patent approved, it could spell disaster for a huge operational segment of any real estate sale: the actual signing of a contract.
What’s odd about this patent application is the bizarre, gaslighting-lite language it uses to pitch the idea of something that is already used widely on the internet. In the background section, the patent claims that “Most of the time the parties are not in the same physical location when the offers, counteroffers, and acceptances are signed. Fax machines are often used to facilitate the process, as well as emailing scanned documents.”
The background continues with, “Sellers, buyers, and their agents are often not in the same contemporaneous physical location. Therefore, signed documents are often faxed between parties, with original signed copies being retained for the closing.”
Using the implied inconvenience of a physical fax machine as an argument for the efficacy of electronic documents makes sense, albeit in an obvious kind of way; however, using this argument to support the notion that Zillow should be able to claim a patent that gives them domain overall electronic forms in the real estate microcosm seems particularly villainous.
It’s also worth noting that, should this patent be granted any time soon, the likelihood that the world will still be in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic is high. From the patent office’s standpoint, restricting the remote signature options of any real estate firm not affiliated with Zillow during a period of time in which purchasing property is already laborious and dangerous shouldn’t even be an option.
Time will tell whether or not Zillow is successful in achieving its bid for e-signing. Other document-signing services may be able to dispute the patent, but Zillow’s history of scooping up unlikely patents is undoubtedly on their side.