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IBM sues Zillow over patents: Are they trolling, or should Zillow chill?

(TECHNOLOGY) Zillow has snatched up quite a few patents in the last couple years; IBM says they’ve had enough, and decides to sue. Are they right to?

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IBM sues Zillow

In a classic case of the big baddie against the little guy, two unlikely contenders–IBM and Zillow, respectively–duke it out over a patent. Their scuffle represents a much larger issue that, despite efforts by the Obama administration, still plagues businesses countrywide to this day.

Patent trolling is a practice we’ve discussed a few times on this platform, but here’s a quick refresh: Large companies, such as IBM, often find it more cost-effective to register for patents that they don’t use and then sue smaller companies for infringing on their patents rather than simply using the patents to develop.

While IBM is quick to justify its lawsuits in cases such as these, the fact that there are so many cases to begin with seems indicative of an overarching problem. IBM’s net worth–a cool $115 billion–absolutely crushes Zillow’s comparatively paltry $7 billion net worth; looking at this situation as anything other than bullying is disingenuous at best.

The problem is, IBM doesn’t see the situation that way.

According to GeekWire, IBM’s lawsuit alleges that one of IBM’s patents–software and computing attributes that “analyze the quality and desirability of a geographic area and [use] list-based searches that let users see the results on a map that fits within their screen”–precedes Zillow’s similar features, thus constituting patent infringement. As such, IBM finds itself positioned to strike.

IBM asks for two major concessions: that Zillow pay royalties based on the “billions” they have generated in revenue as a result of their search mechanics (a sketchy claim at best), and that Zillow be banned from using services that resemble the referenced patents in the future.

From a company that had over 110,000 patents registered to its name in the last 20 years, this is a bit rich–especially given that Zillow isn’t exactly encroaching on IBM’s clientele.

No one’s here to sing Zillow’s praises by any means. Zillow has proved that they aren’t against registering multiple patents; in the last 10 years, Zillow has logged 17 patents, one of which appears to reference searching within a site-embedded engine that takes into account multiple criteria. Sound familiar? It should–sites all over, from family-friendly options to decidedly NSFW ones, all utilize a similar feature.

So, in this case of bullies bullying each other, what’s the underlying problem?

Unfortunately, IBM’s example sets an uncomfortable precedent for patent trolling going forward. While the Obama administration’s patent reform addressed the issues of “overly broad patents” and required companies to provide specific details about the patents for which they apply, it appears that IBM’s lawsuit does little to skirt this legislation, instead plowing fully through it to make a point.

In other words, because of IBM’s monetary endowment, they essentially get to do as they please–and even a business as highly valued as Zillow can do little to stop their momentum.

Make no mistake: IBM is engaging in patent trolling, Zillow is taking the brunt of their attack, and it seems like IBM is only getting started as they leveled similar suits against other tech companies in the past couple of years.

If you think this doesn’t affect your tech startup, think again. IBM may be an exception in the wealth department, but if they win this lawsuit, it’s possible that patent-trolling companies countrywide will feel emboldened to take action of their own. Zillow may be the first high-profile victim of this kind of behavior, but it certainly won’t be the last.

And, as consumers, we should expect more from the companies that seek to innovate on our behalf.

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.

Real Estate Technology

Power up your daily checklists and task organization with Macro

(REAL ESTATE TECH NEWS) Got a lot of tasks and lists to organize? Macro lets you streamline your repetitive tasks and checklists with its “powerful checklists”.

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Front web page for Macro, super powered checklists, supercharges your team's processes.

If repetitive tasks and checklists are part of your daily workflows, there’s a new tool, which says it can “supercharge your team’s processes.” Macro is a product that lets you create checklists to document workflows, assign tasks to team members, and automate common actions.

Macro checklists are designed to let you complete various tasks in a single tab. Once you’re signed up, you can view and create all your checklists in the “Library” section. To create a new checklist, you simply select the “Create New” button on the top right.

In the Checklist Editor, you can configure your checklist to fit the process that best works for you. You can build a comprehensive workflow by adding a task-type menu, form, or file upload field.

Macro checklists let you use variables to set up custom fields that will be filled out by anyone who runs your checklist. This helps enable templated actions you can use over and over again. For instance, you can create a variable called “Name”. If you’re sending out a Welcome email for your subscription service, you can add the “Name” variable to it, and the name of the new subscribers will then automatically appear in the email.

After your checklist is ready, you can hit save and start adding automation to your checklist by defining a trigger and its action. For example, you can pre-define which tasks are assigned to a certain team member. So, when a checklist is run, it will automatically be assigned to that person. You can even specify dependencies for each task. If Task A and Task B need to be completed before Task C can begin, they will remain inactive until the dependent tasks are marked as complete.

When your checklist is polished and ready, you can invite people to view or edit it. And, after you start running your first checklist, you can use Macro’s built-in reporting to keep track of your progress and view metrics in the Tracking section. From there, you can see what tasks are completed and which ones are pending. If needed, you can also set deadlines for each checklist and reminders for each task.

Macro also offers templates for common use cases, such as employee and customer onboarding, podcast workflow, and new candidate on-site process. Right now, it is still in public beta so it’s free to use. On the company’s website, it says Macro “will always offer a free version.” However, what features the “free plan” will include aren’t clear, but enterprise plans will be announced soon.

Overall, Macro is easy to use, and it packs a lot of punch in a neat little tool. If you’d like to give it a test drive, you can sign up on the company’s website.

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Real Estate Technology

What you need to know about no-code vs low-code (and what it means)

(REAL ESTATE MARKETING) The no-code movement is putting more power in the hands of folks with zero programming skills. So what makes it different from low-coding, and what choice is right for your business goals?

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An overhead look at a person working on a no-code website on a laptop on a desk.

It is tricky to grasp the distinction between no-code and low-code. The two terms are often lumped together, but considering the disrupting influence these ideas have had in the tech world, the modern marketing professional ought to understand the difference if they want to explore this movement for themselves.

Both styles of programming are about expediting the app creation process, and enable the creation of surprisingly sophisticated code for your business without requiring any coding expertise.

Rather than focus on what these two styles are, they are more clearly distinguished by who they are for.

Jason Bloomberg of Forbes put it succinctly: “In the No-Code corner are the ‘citizen developers’ – business users who can build functional but generally limited apps without having to write a line of code. The Low-Code corner, in contrast, centers on professional developers, streamlining and simplifying their work – delivering enterprise-class applications with little or no hand-coding.”

Low-code refers to more complex tools that rely on the user having some understanding of programming to utilize. Stripe, a payment software, is an example of a low-code program, and seamlessly integrates with third party tools. Excel could even be considered low-code, considering how certain actions can be easily automated with some coding and math knowledge. But getting the most out of these programs is a challenge for programming outsiders and newcomers.

Enter no-code – much like Google Translate can help you communicate in a foreign language, the no-code movement is bridging the gap for innovators who have ideas but little to no coding experience.

As the name suggests, no-coders don’t have to learn a language in order to get started building automated processes. With tools like Zapier, creating a program relies on a simple graphic interface rather than written lines of text (which means no typing!)

That simplicity comes with tradeoffs, though. No-code expedites the process of writing more basic apps, and its offerings are fairly industry-specific.

(And just to add another layer of confusion, there are also “hybrids” like that sit somewhere in the middle between no- and low-code.)

You aren’t going to instantly turn into an expert hacker or anything, but if you want to build simple functions, like automated sequences based on incoming emails, no-code is a perfect choice.

All this to say, there are plentiful options in the codeless world for curious people of all skill levels. Yet ironically professional developers may stand to benefit the most from the no-code movement. Having these tools be widely available means potential clients are also able to explore, on their own, how their ideas translate to the app environment.

Or, as creator of MakerPad, Ben Tossell, puts it: “[No-code means that developers] won’t be wasting their time on projects that don’t work. People should have more conviction around the thing they’re trying to build before they speak to the developer.”

The potential for this technology still has yet to be fully unlocked but as it matures and becomes more well known, it’s sure to keep changing the tech game. If you’ve ever been curious about the power of code but are hesitant to spend months studying a programming language, there has never been a better time to dive in.

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Real Estate Technology

Could your office benefit from an open floor plan?

(TECHNOLOGY NEWS) Science proves that open floor plans are more conducive to office productivity, but will it work for everyone?

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open office

If you walk into a tech startup, nine times out of ten you’ll find an open seating / bull-pen style seating. Whereas traditional work environments are divided up into departments with individual offices and cubicles, open offices have floor plans that put all employees in the same room. Studies have shown that cubicles don’t increase productivity. As a matter of fact, people are more productive when they are sitting close together, but can see each other.

Pros of openness

Some of the advantages of an open office floor plan are obvious. These kinds of offices are economical because you can fit more people and more desks in less space, and because it is more efficient to heat, cool, and light one large room than several small rooms.

Open office plans also facilitate communication between managers and their employees, and between departments.

Rather than taking the stairs or hiking down the hall to collaborate with another person, you can simply holler across the room.

Cons of openness

Unfortunately, all of that hollering can sometimes be pretty distracting. A University of Sydney study found that half of workers in open offices say that the most frustrating part of their workplace is the “lack of sound privacy.”

Open offices are not only noisy, but are also less secure, since everyone can overhear one another.

Employees may get peeved if they can’t concentrate because of all the noise around them, or can’t make a phone call without being overheard.

Dr. Who inspired solution

A startup called Framery Acoustics offers a solution.

They create soundproof phone booths and meeting pods designed to complement open office floor plans.

One of the founders, who previously worked in an open office, complained that his boss talked too loudly on his cellphone. His boss replied, “Well, get me a phone booth.” Thus, Framery Acoustics was born.

Simple solutions

Framery Acoustics is just one company that offers a product suited to appease open office dissenters. Framery Acoustics isn’t ready to give up on openness and neither should you. So, when it comes time to return to your office (if you haven’t already), look for ways to make your office more flexible. Whether it is by providing a quiet capsule for private meetings and phone calls or just having a designated section for meeting, the solution is out there.

Compromising allows you to reap the benefits of an open office plan, while still ensuring that you and your officemates have privacy and quiet when it is needed.

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