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Chill, Zillow! Real estate giant gets yet another patent

(MARKETING) Zillow grabs yet another broadly worded patent that stands to screw over small businesses. When will it end? …Can it end?

Pen drawing blueprints, another Zillow patent in the works

In a move that’s surprising to pretty much no one, Zillow gained another patent this year — this time having to do with the presentation of and navigation through photos. Even for the patent fiends themselves, this one is a stretch.

We’ve covered Zillow’s overzealous patent-grabbing before. Between snatching 17 patents over the last decade—one of which deals with the simple matter of filtered searches—and going through a few rounds of finger-pointing with IBM over patent trolling, the real estate company hasn’t exactly endeared itself on this front.

Now, Zillow has succeeded in securing a patent that is sure to throw a wrench in the operation practices of plenty of websites.

The patent itself addresses “image transition sequences between viewing locations”, but the parameters of that description are imaginably vast. Among these parameters are “simulated movement”—whether that be through zooming or simple sequential arrangement of photos—and other effects such as blending, blurring, or rotating.

Presentation methods such as panoramas, videos, and animations are also covered in the patent.

It’s not that Zillow shouldn’t be able to patent something that they pioneered vis-a-vis the field of real estate. But the language in this particular patent is problematic. By securing such a broadly worded option, Zillow has the power to severely restrict the operating potential of competitors. Considering how established Zillow already is in the real estate market, putting another obstacle in front of any feasible competition feels like a cheap shot.

More importantly, Zillow has demonstrated that a feature used by tons of different services can be intercepted and controlled with, apparently, little in the way of regulation. If Zillow wasn’t already under a microscope for their patent-nabbing escapades of the last decade, there’s little hope that the real estate giant will have to answer for this obvious power grab as well.

Patent trolling remains a major issue in plenty of sectors, and real estate certainly isn’t exempt. Especially during a period of time in which small businesses will inherently struggle, patent hoarding and trolling should be met with the strictest of penalties. For now, though, competing real estate services will need to find a new way to conduct virtual tours without stepping on Zillow’s over-large toes.

Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.

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