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Zillow slapped with lawsuit for copyright infringement

While it’s no secret that Zillow has been under fire lately, does the latest lawsuit spell problems for Z or is it another frivolous suit?

In the latest lawsuit against Zillow, Global Equity Management (SA), or GEMSA, has filed suit against the real estate platform for patent/copyright infringement. GEMSA alleges Zillow has linked “directly or indirectly [to] Amazon Web Services (AWS) as illustrated [here]” This type of linking allegedly infringes one or more or the following patents: U.S. Patent No. 6,690,400 (also known as the 400) and/or U.S. Patent No. 7,356,677 (also known as the 677).

What the suit is alleging

Court documents state that Flash Vos, Inc. (FVOS), an early predecessor of GEMSA, was established in 1997 in Houston, Texas to develop platform independent information processing in complex environments with multiple systems and multiple operating environments. FVOS created and produced the first Virtual System OS (VOS) and the first Super Operating Systems (SOS) that were ahead of their current technological times. The SOS developed by FVOS allowed multiple operating environments to coexist on the same platform with their own independent file systems. When FVOS invented Systems Virtualization, they were awarded three separate patents for their technology (US6690400, 7356677, and 6401183).

Why this technology even matters

Let’s stop right here for a moment and talk about what this means. In 1997, when the mainstream Internet was just beginning to take off, FVOS had developed and launched a system which allowed users to use multiple operating environments, share information, and paved the way for the virtualization of computers based on storage. GEMSA continued to support and develop this technology and received additional patents in China for their efforts.

Item 11 in the lawsuit states, “these GEMSa creative achievements [those that they were awarded the aforementioned patents for] not only revolutionized the development of virtualization technology for support of multiple operating systems, but also helped the development of internet advertising and information accessing from multiple data sources;” this sounds a little bit like what Zillow is doing, right?

How the technology is being used

One of the features of GEMSA’s innovations is the method of “accessing additional relevant information from the GUI (Graphical User Interface, sometimes known as icons or labels)” by simply clicking on the information links positioned on the right hand side of the GUI. The lawsuit states the GUI innovations include “menu bars” and “marked links.” And, in accordance with this, GEMSA alleges that Zillow uses a website with GUI for the administration and management of or one of its websites linked directly or indirectly to one or more claims of infringement against the GEMSA patent. The same is alleged for the second patent as well. Here is one example of FVOS’ original SOS interface:

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From this image, it’s slightly easier to see what’s going on. GEMSA is alleging that Zillow is using their interface, design, and technology to gain profit, without proper authorization. In doing so, they have allegedly violated a patent.

GEMSA is seeking damages from Zillow for the violation, as well as court costs, and an order for Zillow and their employees, agents, and attorneys to cease their infringement.

The bottom line?

It is our assessment that this is yet another frivolous patent lawsuit that reveals the broken nature of the patent system in our nation, even after recent reforms. Zillow isn’t doing anything that thousands (millions? billions?) of other websites are, which is the leading indicator of a patent trolling lawsuit.


Jennifer Walpole is a Senior Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a Master's degree in English from the University of Oklahoma. She is a science fiction fanatic and enjoys writing way more than she should. She dreams of being a screenwriter and seeing her work on the big screen in Hollywood one day.


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