Real Estate Alliance Ltd. has issued another license for a patent the company holds for using a computer mapping system to locate available real estate properties for sale. The move is the latest news in the patent holder’s initiative to enforce its patent in the real estate industry.
Real Estate Alliance Ltd., or REAL for short, caught the industry’s attention last year when it sued a Philadelphia Realtor, claiming the agent was infringing the patent on her Web site. An attorney for REAL has said that real estate agents throughout the country may be infringing the patent and subject to legal action.
National real estate franchise company Envirian LLC announced it has obtained a license from REAL for its patented REAL989 map search functionality for use on Envirian’s national and franchise Web sites. The agreement grants Reston, Va.-based Envirian a master license as well as licenses for every broker and agent in the Envirian franchise family, which includes operations in Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
The patents cover a mapping method “for locating available real estate properties for sale, lease or rental using a database of available properties and a graphic interface,” according to patent documents. The patent also includes a “drilldown” feature, under which specific areas can be displayed in greater detail.
In May, LendingTree became the first major real estate company to obtain a license from REAL for use of the patented map-search functionality on the LendingTree-owned RealEstate.com Web site. Under the agreement, RealEstate.com is a fully licensed nationwide user of REAL’s patents, and will incorporate its mapping and zooming interfaces on RealEstate.com.
The patents were granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 1989 and 1991. Lawrence Husick, an attorney for REAL, has noted that the REAL989 patent, which expires in 2008, does not claim “the mere providing of interactive zoomable maps…it is the specific set of steps in the claim that applies the mapping technology to the location of available real estate.”
Another company, Equias Technology Development, holds a license for the REAL patent and is a licensing agent for REAL, according to Husick.
REAL last year filed a lawsuit against Philadelphia Realtor Diane Sarkisian, accusing her of illegally using its patented property locator method and asking for unspecified royalties and court costs. Sarkisian has denied the allegations, according to court documents, and the case is pending in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.
In January, Sarkisian filed a countersuit, naming Andrew Rooke, president of REAL; Mark Tornetta, the original patent holder and shareholder of REAL; Lawrence Husick, counsel for REAL; Equias Technology Development LLC and Scott Tatro, president and founder of Equias. The complaint alleges defendants violated antitrust and other laws, and devised a “‘bottom up approach’…designed to target individual real estate agents, who can not afford to employ patent counsel or to fight expensive patent lawsuits.”
Defendants in the countersuit have denied allegations and the suit is still pending in U.S. district court.