IBM is suing real estate tech giant Zillow over seven charges of patent infringement related to a host of computer processes that Zillow uses to run its website.

International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) is suing real estate tech giant Zillow over seven charges of patent infringement related to a host of computer processes that Zillow uses to run its website.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleges that Zillow essentially built its business on the back of IBM’s inventions.

“Rather than build their business on their own technologies, Zillow has appropriated the inventions of the [patents named in the lawsuit],” the complaint reads. “The website,, and the associated mobile applications under Zillow’s control use the technology claimed by the [patents named in the lawsuit], to provide customers access to real estate listings and provide advertisements and other services for real estate agents.”

The lawsuit specifically points to patents covering the use of algorithms for computing the desirability of a geographic area using dynamic imaging; methods for providing geospatial, list-based and filter-based search; the use of layers to display multiple object categories; automatically targeting advertisements to individual search results rather than search queries; and a host of other, more technical patents.

IBM, in the suit, says it first contacted Zillow to negotiate over the use of patent technology in 2016. Over the course of the next three years, it reached out to Zillow multiple times, each time informing the company of different patent technology it was using on its website and mobile app.

“IBM has repeatedly attempted to reach a negotiated solution to Zillow’s infringement of the [patents named in the lawsuit] and has presented detailed examples of their infringement of each of the [patents named in the lawsuit],” the complaint reads.

“But Zillow has refused to engage in any meaningful discussions about reaching a license agreement to end their infringement of IBM’s patents,” the complaint continues. “Instead, Zillow has continued to willfully infringe IBM’s patents so as to obtain the significant benefits of IBM’s innovations without paying any compensation to IBM.”

Patent-related lawsuits aren’t new territory for IBM, which even says in the suit that while it routinely licenses its patents in many fields, it will enforce its rights against those who use its intellectual property unlawfully.

In April 2019, IBM also sued Expedia – which coincidentally was also founded by Zillow co-founder and CEO Rich Barton – over multiple charges of patent infringement. It’s also sued other major startups like Priceline and Groupon over patent infringement in the last five years.

In the lawsuit, IBM is seeking an injunction to no longer allow Zillow to use any of the technology it says is protected by the patent, as well as damages incurred from the use of the patent as determined.

A spokesperson for Zillow told Inman the company believes the claims are without merit.

“We are aware of the lawsuit filed in federal court,” the spokesperson said, in a statement. “We believe the claims in the case are without merit and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves against the lawsuit.”

A spokesperson for IBM did not immediately return a request for comment.

See the full 208-page complaint below:

Email Patrick Kearns

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