REAL ESTATE AGENTS BEWARE! As this blog has pointed out earlier, one unique feature of patent holding company litigation is that they like to start enforcement efforts by focusing on end-users first to build-up their litigation coffers. Streaming media websites, credit-card processing companies and even commodity market traders have felt the sting of holding companies when they go on the rampage.
Now add real-estate agents to that list.
A Philidelphia estate agent who describes herself as being in the top one per cent of all agents nationwide, has been named in a Federal lawsuit that accuses her of patent infringement by using a computer mapping system without acquiring a license to use the enabling technology.
The lawsuit was filed against Diane Sarkisian of Ambler, Pennsylvania and is believed to be the first of its kind. The suit naming Sarkisian was filed Tuesday in Federal District Court in Philadelphia. Lawyers for the patent owner, Real Estate Alliance, Ltd. (REAL), specifically noted that real estate agents throughout the country may be infringing the patent and subject to legal action.
U.S. Patent No. 5,032,989, titled "Real Estate Search and Location System and Method," was granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 1991, at a time when the commercial use of the Internet was in its infancy. It covers a mapping system "for locating available real estate properties for sale, lease or rental using a database of available properties at a central location and remote stations which use a graphic interface," according to the document. The patent also includes a "drilldown" feature, under which specific areas can be displayed in greater detail.
Real estate agents use this method as a valuable tool to locate desirable residential properties every day as they work with their clients. (The National Association of Realtors claims more than 1.11 million members.) The lawsuit states Sarkisian has not obtained a license to use the underlying technology, and asks for unspecified royalties plus court costs.
REAL, for the time being has indicated that they are holding off suing potential defendants like, TRenD, the local multiple listing service, for patent infringement. However, lawyers for REAL said other real estate agents have been notified about their infringement of the company's patent as part of an ongoing process, and said additional civil lawsuits will be filed against agents across the United States who do not voluntarily obtain licenses.
The patent only has one independent claim (Claim 1), and it reads as follows:
Claim 1. A method using a computer for locating available real estate
properties comprising the steps of:
a) creating a database of the available real estate properties;
b) displaying a map of a desired geographic area;
c) selecting a first area having boundaries within the geographic area;
d) zooming in on the first area of the displayed map to about the boundaries of the first area to display a higher level of detail than the displayed map;
e) displaying the zoomed first area;
f) selecting a second area having boundaries within the zoomed first area;
g) displaying the second area and a plurality of points within the second area, each point representing the appropriate geographic location of an available real estate property; and
h) identifying available real estate properties within the database which
are located within the second area.