We recently reported that Zillow is scooping up patents faster than developers are bulldozing Central Austin single family homes to build two modern half-million dollar homes in their place. And since then, Zillow’s showing no signs of slowing down.
The online real estate search giant applied for another utility patent for automatically determining market rental rate index for properties .
And what is that you ask?
This application patents Zillow’s ability to determine and index the market rental rate for homes in a geographic area. By accessing the current market rental rate of every home in each area, they can automatically compare them to similar homes to obtain aggregate results.
This functionality isn’t new. Other sites use similar functions to help renters find homes in the areas of their choosing at prices they are willing to pay. However, as we stated, utility patent applications are time intensive and the cost alone raises eyebrows.
Because if granted these patents, Zillow will be putting themselves at odds with their direct competition and other heavy hitters in the real estate search engine space. No biggie, it’s a free market, but brokers (who butter their bread) also feature automated rental rate tools, many not from Z.
As we mentioned before, this calls into question the unsavory practice of patent trolling. Patent trolls weaponize patents by scooping up patents from other companies instead of coming up with new ideas or technologies. In this case, it means grabbing patents for common technology, such as functionality that allows a user to compile a list of homes with desirable attributes in their prices range.
This kind of technology is already commonly used by several companies and some tell us they believe it shouldn’t need a patent in the first place. However, if Zillow’s applications for the patents go through, they can use them to threaten competing companies with legal action for infringement or failure to pay licensing fees for use of said tech.
Alternatively, this could be a brilliant move by Zillow to protect their intellectual property, their very own special way of automating this data, and that too is a smart business move.
We don’t know how this shakes out, but we’ll definitely be keeping a close eye out for updates.