UPDATE ON EQUIAS: After posting on Real Estate Alliance Ltd.'s (REAL) continuing litigation against Diane Sarkisian and the '989 patent, I was a bit befuddled over the sudden appearance of Scott Tatro from Equias Technology Development, discussing the specifics of the REAL patent. Well, after a little digging, I found this article from Red Herring that provides some more information on the cast of characters involved on REAL's side. Apparently, Equias Technology Development is a consortium of smaller companies and individuals based in Malta, New York, that has bought the rights to license REAL’s technology.
I also had questions regarding the time lag between the granting of the patent (back in 1991), and the current enforcement effort, and why it took so long for these suits to materialize. According to Scott, the explanation goes something like this:
“In 1993, the Internet became more robust and people began using graphical interfaces. That became a venue where REAL could monitor usage of its patent . . . In 1995 REAL started notifying real estate companies, hospitality companies—any companies using a mapping interface.”
Most people who were informed of the patent ignored the company. Then REAL went for broke. In 1994 it filed a suit against Microsoft’s Home Advisor, a real estate outlet. They also sued MoreData, an information aggregator working with Microsoft.
“REAL ran into a wall of money that they didn’t have the resources to fight,” said Mr. Tatro. “But they continued negotiating with companies through the ’90s. Then the law started changing, making users responsible for patent infringement.”
In 2002 REAL gained a major investor, Andrew Rooke, who is currently the president of the company. So REAL gained an independently wealthy benefactor and a team of patent attorneys.
“Since then we’ve had NAR tell us that they think the patent is legit, but the patent holder is too small, so it did not have the legal staying power,” said Mr. Tatro. “We formed a consortium and negotiated with them for bulk licenses, but they’ve been ignoring us, hoping we would go away.”
Equias Technology Development, a licensee of that technology, said it has
approached the National Association of Realtors (NAR) to reach a negotiated
settlement on a bundled license but has been rebuffed.
Apparently, the company has no current plans to sue Google or Microsoft for their use of mapping technology because Google "allows others to overlay their database over its mapping technology."
“If Google or Microsoft began urging real estate agents to geo-locate their databases on their maps, then they could be in violation,” said Mr. Tatro.
I'm not buying this completely. Apparently, when Tornetta tried to sue Microsoft and Moore USA and was unsuccessful, the judge threw the case out because it was filed in the wrong name. Tornetta never refiled. That doesn't sound like a money problem to me. It's rather odd that they would pop up six years later making waves over the same matter that was brought up years ago.
Also, regarding Google, I wonder if the folks at REAL saw this announcement by RealBird: "RealBird Integrates Google Maps into its MLS Mapping Service "
I personally think that REAL has a valid case here, but there are some serious bugs they need to work out. First, the apparent stopping-and-starting of litigation may come back to bite them. Second, the line of mapping patents were developed well before the Internet matured into a viable platform, and I anticipate that the defendants will have a go at restricting the interpretation of each of the claim elements over that fact. That doesn't necessarily mean that REAL can't argue equivalents, but ever since Festo, there are more and more hurdles that patentees need to jump before they can get a court to buy into an argument of equivalence.
Prosecution Histories and a copy of the complaint filed can be downloaded and viewed here
Article from Realty Times