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Mobile apps maker sues 12 real estate companies

Earthcomber alleges patent infringement by Zillow, Trulia, Dominion, RealPage, others

A company that makes mobile location-based search applications has filed suit against 12 major real estate companies, alleging patent infringement.

The company, Earthcomber, filed 10 separate complaints against the companies Jan. 18 in a federal district court in Chicago, where Earthcomber is based.

The companies named are Dominion Enterprises; LoopNet; Network Communications Inc. (NCI); Primedia; Redfin; Trulia; Zillow; ZipRealty; RealPage Inc. and its subsidiary; the National Association of Realtors; and Move Inc., which operates under an operating agreement with NAR. Move and NAR were named in the same complaint, as were RealPage and MyNewPlace. Many of these companies operate several subsidiaries.

Trulia, ZipRealty, Zillow, Dominion, Move, NAR, NCI and LoopNet declined to comment for this story. Zillow reported that it had yet to be served. The remaining companies did not respond to request for comment by publication time.

Earthcomber’s complaints concern two of its patents. The first, U.S. patent No. 7,071,842, claims a "system and method for locating and notifying a user of a person, place or thing having attributes matching the user’s stated preferences." The second, U.S. patent No. 7,589,628, claims a "system and method for providing location-based information to mobile consumers." Earthcomber alleges LoopNet violated the latter patent and that the other 11 companies violated both.

In 2008, Earthcomber filed suit against location-based social network Loopt, alleging infringement of the former patent. That case was ultimately dismissed after the parties came to a "business deal," Earthcomber President Jim Brady told Thursday.

All 10 suits demand jury trials and request judgments against the companies, compensation for damages, and reimbursement of litigation costs.

Alexandria, Va.-based CIVIX-DDI LLC, a company that holds several patents on location-based Internet search techniques, filed a similar patent infringement suit against Trulia in late July. CIVIX dropped the suit two months later.

CIVIX has sued a number of other companies for patent infringement since its founding in 1998. Last year, NAR completed a deal with CIVIX in which the trade group agreed to raise $7.5 million in licensing fees by Aug. 16, 2011, in return for blanket protections from legal claims for all multiple listing services and Realtor associations.

On Aug. 19, just days after NAR met that deadline, won a summary judgment in a patent infringement lawsuit CIVIX first filed in December 2005. CIVIX filed an appeal of that decision on Sept. 15. Later that month, CIVIX dropped its suit against Trulia.

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