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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

Need a scheduling tool that can do it all? SavvyCal has you covered

(TECH NEWS) There’s new scheduling software tool that helps people schedule meetings with you and doesn’t put the burden completely on the recipient.

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Computer on a desk in open office with SavvyCal, a scheduling tool, open on the computer.

One of the worst parts of meetings is setting up the meeting itself. Figuring out who’s free and when can sometimes be a time suck. In the past, we’ve written about several scheduling tools that say they will make things better. Now, here is another new tool that says it can do more than what other meeting software tools had to offer.

Meet SavvyCal, an indie SaaS company whose “mission is to cut the friction and awkwardness out of scheduling time with people.” Founded by Derrick Reimer, a full-stack developer and co-founder of Drip, the company is solving the age-old problem of scheduling meetings.

“There are a hundred and one scheduling tools to help you avoid the awkward dance of finding a time to meet. While most of them are convenient for the person sending a link to book a time with them, are they actually convenient for the person receiving the link?” said Reimer.

Unlike other apps, the scheduling tool makes it easy for both the sender and the recipient to schedule meetings. It also has valuable features that other tools do not.

So, what features set SavvyCal apart from other scheduling software?

Personalized Links
SavvyCal says it’s an alternative to Calendly because it’s picking up where the pioneer left off. While Calendly lets you schedule appointments, it doesn’t offer the personalization that SavvyCal does. SavvyCal prioritizes personalization by letting you create individual scheduling links for your recipients. For instance, instead of having a string of numbers that don’t offer much information, you can add names to the link titles to create custom URLs.

Overlay Calendar
The scheduling tool quickly lets you find a time that works for everyone, and the company says it does more than what Doodle can do for you. Doodle is great for group scheduling, but it falls short when scheduling 1:1 meetings. SavvyCal improves upon Doodle by allowing your recipients to overlay their calendar over yours so a mutual availability slot is easily found.

Multiple Calendars
SavvyCal says it wasn’t just made for internal meetings, like scheduling software Woven. With Woven, you can keep track of your digital calendar by tagging and labeling events. However, all the events live in the same calendar, and it doesn’t take into consideration external meetings. SavvyCal solves Woven’s problem by having multiple calendars that can be cross-checked for conflicts.

Ranked Availability and Limit Scheduling Frequency
With the tool, you can set preferred times and rank them in a certain order so people are encouraged to pick a time that you secretly want them to choose. And, the tool protects you from having a “meeting overload” by letting you set booking limits. For instance, you can set limits on the number of meetings that can be booked per day, week, or month.

In addition, SavvyCal offers more features like availability presets, multiple meeting durations, and customizing availability on the fly.

Overall, the company says the scheduling tool makes “scheduling collaborative instead of a nuisance.” It’s a good alternative to start getting people to schedule meetings with you while not placing all the burden on the recipient.

So far, it’s getting good reviews. If you’d like to check it out, the interactive demo on their website is a good start.

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Real Estate Technology

Realtors and agents, take advantage of your proptech

(TECH NEWS) As the pandemic makes proptech even hotter, savvy real estate pros need to know what tech tools can do for their business.

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Realtor outlining a home using Proptech to potential homebuyers.

Real estate industry experts have a message for Realtors and agents: Get with the proptech program.

Yes, the industry reacted to the pandemic-fueled market crash in the spring by jumping on video conferencing platforms and ramping up virtual tours, but there’s a lot more tech that real estate pros could be taking advantage of.

“Videoconferencing technology isn’t new, but we’re slower to adopt technologies than we’d like to admit,” Nick Bailey, chief customer officer for RE/MAX, LLC, said during this week’s 2020 REALTORS® Conference & Expo. “The reason is that we don’t want to see or hear ourselves. We have to get over that and use it.” (Pro tip for Zoom users: If you don’t want to see yourself, use the Hide Myself feature. Then you won’t be distracted by any pandemic weight gain.)

The pandemic has made a couple of things sparkling clear. As panelists in the “COVID-19 – Transforming How Realtors® Do Business” session agreed, technology was a huge driver in the industry’s V-shaped recovery after lockdowns. They also said trends spurred by COVID-19 aren’t going away.

Consumers love the efficiency and flexibility of being able to virtually tour 10 homes and visit only 3 or 4 top candidates. Also, many people will likely be uncomfortable touring houses for quite awhile.

Now the pandemic has helped demonstrate the value of proptech tools for Realtors and agents, who can use them for keeping in touch with clients, as well as for marketing and prospecting.

“If every agent can take away two pieces of technology to be more efficient, it will improve their business,” Bailey said.

Just a sample of the panel’s recommended tools:

It’s remote online notarization (RON) integrated with e-signatures that could be the biggest efficiency game-changer. However, there are few hurdles, which the Texas Land Title Association outlined in April: Many lenders and county clerks will not yet accept documents notarized online; there are a limited number of RON vendors and registered e-notaries; and consumers as well as industry professionals simply don’t understand how it works.

Still, integrating a tech ecosystem to create seamless, fully-digital transactions appears to be where the industry is headed. “Embracing title companies and lenders who have that ability for full electronic signings and closings will be important,” said Andy Ambrose, practice lead at DocuSign Notary.

For all that tech can do to save time and money, panelists agreed that nothing can replace the value of personal relationships for consumers – and for agents.

“For many real estate professionals, the pandemic reminded them about how much they love working with people and not just to sell real estate, but to check on their customers and families,” said Marilyn Wilson, managing partner of WAV Group and president of RETechnology.com.

For Bailey, the proptech surge has one really bright spot: “It has reminded every agent that they are the most important part of the real estate transaction, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.”

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Real Estate Technology

No sympathy for cancelled app encouraging ‘rebellious’ pandemic parties

(TECH NEWS) Apple and TikTok cancel Vybe Together’s accounts to prevent the secret party organizing app from promoting pandemic parties, while its founder cries foul and backpedals mightily.

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Group of people celebrating and cheers-ing with beverages, an example of unsafe pandemic parties.

Where can you find a fun secret party during COVID-19 restrictions?

Vybe Together: We’ve got you, party people! Check out these videos of wild, private bacchanalia you can join or throw! Be a rebel.

Apple and TikTok: Not on our watch.

Vybe Together: Waaah. So unfair, jk, we were talking about small, intimate get-togethers that are totally COVID-safe.

Vybe Together, an app promising to help people find secret parties in their area, in the era when parties are a bad idea, had the proverbial rug pulled out from under them when both Apple and TikTok put the kibosh on Vybe Together. Apple pulled the app off of its platform, and TikTok banned their channel. They cited that it goes against their community guidelines and COVID-19 regulations in several cities. Founder Alexander Dimcevski and the official Vybe Together Instagram account and website are currently backpedaling to beat the ban.

Taylor Lorenz of the New York Times tweeted the app into greater public awareness on Dec. 29, reporting the large secret pandemic parties they were promoting for New Year’s Eve. Alas, the tweet and likely numerous reports of the party app going against community and recommended COVID-19 guidelines, led Apple and TikTok to ditch Vybe Together before New Year’s Eve.

Despite Vybe Together’s founder’s cries of poor, pitiful me, and the app’s claim to the contrary, the intention to help people find and attend large scale private/secret parties was what they seemed to be showcasing. For example, on TikTok, the account showed videos of unmasked partygoers, attracting more of what the founder deemed, in an LA Times article, “the coolest people in the city.”

The official word on the Vybe Together website is that they are sorely misunderstood and innocent of any wrongdoing. Vybe Together’s current Instagram account hints at what the LA Times called “its outlaw intention” with its tagline “Get your rebel on. Get your party on.” According to various sources, the TikTok account featured videos of unmasked partygoers. The mere fact that app users had to submit their social media profiles and photos of them partying to vet appears to indicate they were trying to make their partygoers prove they wouldn’t report the illegal (or at least ill-advised) parties.

The official website now claims that it was merely an error in branding, and nothing more, and that of course they were only promoting small gatherings in people’s own homes. However, they had already promoted a rooftop party for NYU students prior to getting hit by the big Apple and TikTok ban hammer. This particular party was cross-promoted on Eventbrite (another platform notoriously promoting pandemic parties).

Dimcevski claims in the LA Times that he was “canceled by the liberal media.” The word from the app’s team seems to be a mix of feeling sorry for themselves, backpedaling because they got caught out, yet still promising to come back soon. In any case, it’s a mixed message and an unwelcome one, when cases and deaths are still surging in both New York City and Miami, where the app was promoting these private parties.

Apple and TikTok are privately owned companies with some responsibility to keep potentially illegal activity off their sites, a massive and ungratifying task. Are Apple and TikTok making an example of the app? Perhaps. Is Vybe Together the only platform out there promoting pandemic parties with the potential to be super spreader events? Certainly not.

However, their flaunting and promoting parties seems reckless, callous, and dangerous in the face of CDC guidelines. With thousands of doctors, healthcare workers, local officials, and infectious disease experts worldwide pleading with the public to avoid gatherings with people outside their own household, even small ones, it’s difficult to muster sympathy for the app’s founder or team.

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