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Why is Zillow trying to patent online ads and age-old algorithm methods?!

Is Zillow building a future patent trolling practice? They put in patent applications for online ads & data-based algorithms…WHAT?!

Women looking concerned away from computer representing Zillow patent

If you’ve been following Zillow’s actions for the past few years, you’re aware of their blatant patent-trolling – applying for buckets of broad patents in the hopes of securing a few – as far as the real estate landscape is concerned. Two of their more recent hopeful conquests include a model for valuation and, believe it or not, online advertising.

The first patent application pertains to a machine-learning process that creates an algorithm for valuing homes automatically based on other factors – the cost of similar homes, the price of the home when built, and so on. This is a self-described “confidence-boosted” system because of the availability of data due to its use of actual values and predicted values rather than simply sticking to the latter.

The problem with this patent is that it covers a pretty old process. The concept of using existing data to inform predictions isn’t exactly revolutionary, even when one applies it to the field of real estate.

Some of the other patents for which Zillow has applied are more obviously evil, but this one absolutely seems like a stretch.

The application for online advertising is much more blatantly sinister, at least from what appears in the abstract: “A facility for presenting advertising messages on behalf of multiple advertisers is described…The facility causes advertising messages to be presented on behalf of the advertisers in accordance with the shares specified by their allocations.”

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The patent text itself mentions different shares per advertiser and a process for randomly selecting advertisers based on the probability that their ads will be successful in a given context. It also covers the algorithm used to rank and score different advertisers in order to determine which ads will play and which advertisers will be in circulation the most.

True to form, it’s an exceptionally wide description of a nearly ubiquitous model that by no means originated under Zillow’s watch.

Zillow’s bid for these options is consistent with their prior endeavors to acquire broad patents in order to secure a more dominant position in the real estate field. It is these kinds of actions that, in addition to inspiring hatred from Realtors across the country, have led to Zillow’s classification as a near-monopoly. As per usual with these kinds of reports, consumers and business owners alike should be wary of this kind of patent acquisition.

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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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