Company Claims Patents On Generating A Map From A Database; Getting Real Estate Industry To Pay Up

from the lovely dept

Judith Lindenau alerts us to the news of a company named CIVIX-DDI, who holds two incredibly broad and obvious patents on generating maps from a database of location info:

  • Patent 6,385,622: “System and methods for remotely accessing a selected group of items of interest from a database.”
  • Patent 6,415,291: “System and methods for remotely accessing a selected group of items of interest from a database.”

Now, I know that patent system supporters always get angry at me for declaring patents obvious, but take a read through the claims (not the abstract) and I defy anyone who knows anything about programming to explain how these patents do not describe incredibly obvious concepts.

Either way, CIVIX-DDI has realized that pretty much every real estate company around likely has a map generated based on a database of location info. So it’s been going after them. It originally went after and a variety of local multiple listing services (MLSs). After a bunch were threatened, the National Association of Realtors stepped in, and a few months ago negotiated a settlement, paying up to keep MLSs from facing patent infringement claims. Of course, that’s just given the company more money, and so now it’s suing Trulia, a useful real estate startup, as well. The industry is realizing that this is putting a serious crimp on much needed innovation in the real estate space:

?Traditionally the real estate industry has been served by a lot of independent software companies. Think about it, Top Producer was a couple brothers from Canada, Advanced Access, eNeighborhooods, Lone Wolf, Tarasoft, Rapattoni, W&R Studios, etc. I could think of a bunch more but hopefully you get the point. It?s not like IBM, Oracle, Microsoft have really focused on real estate software/technology,? W&R Studios co-founder, Greg Robertson told AGBeat.

Robertson continued, ?These patent trolls are threatening the ability for these independent software companies to do business. Meaning, bigger companies who have the assets to pay the extortion money will end up being the winners. Independent software companies will either go out of business or get gobbled up by bigger companies. Both scenarios equal less choice for real estate professionals.?

Regarding VC backed companies like Trulia and Zillow, Robertson said, ?whether you like them or not, they are the ones really investing and leading on the innovation side. So we are all in this fight together. The consequences are clear; less choice and less innovation.?

Bad patents and bad patent lawsuits are not just a problem for the tech industry. They’re hitting pretty much every industry these days, and those who support a totally broken patent system and the awful patents they produce are doing serious harm to innovation and the economy.

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Companies: civix-ddi, trulia

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Comments on “Company Claims Patents On Generating A Map From A Database; Getting Real Estate Industry To Pay Up”

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:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Beg to Differ

Bad patents and bad patent lawsuits are not just a problem for the tech industry. They’re hitting pretty much every industry these days, and those who support a totally broken patent system and the awful patents they produce are doing serious harm to innovation and the economy.

I would be willing to bet the Legislative profit industry, the Prison Industry, and the Military/Industrial Complex are not (yet?) suffering any losses from patent trolling.

Mike42 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

…until someone actually challenges these pathetic patents. 2001? Are you kidding me? There’s tons of published articles (aka PRIOR ART) on database-driven mapping before then. SQL Server and Oracle had a special data type (blobs) to support bitmaps just for mapping! These guys are jokes.
If someone has the cash to do it, the can nail these jokers for court costs at the very least.

Nicedoggy says:

Re: Re: Re:

That is why I’m pointing people to GIS, that have been in heavy development at least since the 70’s and before electronics since medieval times.

Also anyone interested can use GIS to try and plot the explosion of patents suing since GIS offers temporal-spatian animations and can show how things change over time.

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

Company name

*Brain cramp*

No, that is NOT proper Roman numeral designation!


I suppose it’s supposed to be pronounced something like “Civics”-something, but it sure looks like it wants to be a Roman numeral when it grows up.

This looked interesting:

Robert Drummer (profile) says:

Re: Company name

Thank you for pointing out my blog post:

I’ve been involved with this for the last few months and it’s been an education.

In very simple terms, claims 20 and 26 of the ‘622 patent address using “The Internet” as the conduit between the query and the data.

This does not include modems or direct connections.

Prior art would have to be before January 1994 and it would have to be publicly known, not in a lab.

The Xerox PARC project fits that criteria and there is a possibility that a 3rd reexamination may be filed. The first two reexaminations failed to mention the Xerox PARC project and did not reverse claims 20 or 26.

To the person that wondered if a third party can file a request for reexamination, the answer is yes. An ex parte request can be filed for $2520 plus the cost of the attorney that writes it for you.

Unless and until the patent or claims 20 and 26 are rejected, anyone using “The Internet” for mapping is at risk. This goes way beyond the real estate industry.

To the software engineer who discussed patenting “methods”, here’s a good one:
(It was overturned)

PlagueSD says:


?Patent 6,385,622: “System and methods for remotely accessing a selected group of items of interest from a database.”
?Patent 6,415,291: “System and methods for remotely accessing a selected group of items of interest from a database.”

Is it just me, or are these two DIFFERENT patents for the EXACT SAME THING??? Maybe CIVIX-DDI should sue itself for patent infringement.

And don’t get me started on the broad definition. How is the search done? What protocols are used? What type of Network? What search language is used? How are the maps displayed? What type of storage is used? Do I need to go on???

Nicedoggy says:

Re: Re: How can a third party challenge a patent?

Want more prior art use GRASS it has been under development since 1982 according to Wikipedia.

Quote:GRASS (Geographic Resources Analysis Support System) has been under continuous development since 1982[1] and has involved a large number of federal US agencies, universities, and private companies. The core components of GRASS and the management of integration of efforts into GRASS releases was originally directed by the U.S. Army – Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (USA-CERL), a branch of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in Champaign, Illinois. USA-CERL completed its last release of GRASS as version 4.1 in 1992, and provided five updates and patches to this release through 1995. USA-CERL also wrote the core components of the GRASS 5.0 floating point version.

Jan Bilek (profile) says:

The end of capitalism?

It seems to me that we are heading towards the end of free market – so many patents are so vague and broad that basically everything is covered by patents – therefore you risk lethal lawsuit no matter what you do to compete on the market… the only secure thing to do is doing nothing. So incentives are really screwed up. And government is not willing to fix it. It’s time for creativity.

I grew up in a totalitarian communist regime. It was really bad and it damaged a lot of people. But to this day I am still surprised how creative some people can get under pressure.

The system is killing creativity – therefore we, creative people, need to find the way how to route around the system. Any ideas?

freak (profile) says:

Re: The end of capitalism?

Develop in secret, release in public, my friend.

Make it spread too fast, and ‘they’ can never kill it.
Make it good enough, and it can kill ‘them’.

Of course, that’s not a very satisfactory answer. It implies anonymity and proxy-jumping and encryption, and all that good stuff. But a least we know that they can’t stop us from creating, or even sharing; they can just make it a bit of a hassle.

Anonymous Coward says:

Suggestion for Patent system reform.

Require that The Patent Office shall first submit all patent applications to 10 open, unedited, forum style websites, 5 of which are general public, or maybe specific to patents, and 5 of which are industry or specialty related (think association etc…). The purpose is to generate comments about particular applications on obviousness, narrowness, and prior art. 30 days of comments should give sufficient time for substantial aggregation.

Comments shall be analyzed and investigative threads developed. Those threads shall be followed until either disqualification may be determined or the thread investigations are exhausted. The standard for disqualification is ‘likely to fail’. This will limit time and money spent on obvious, overly narrow, or patents with currently unknown prior art.

This process is to educate the generalist Patent Investigators on things they may not know about. Therefore this process is required.

This process shall be applied to any infringement lawsuit, with the expense born by the instigating litigant, who may find that a reasonable examiner should never have approved the patent in the first place. This should save a lot of money in the courts, sorry lawyers.

Require that patent holders actually produce what they hold patents on, in order to file civil suits regarding their patents.


darryl says:

Auther does not know about patents or software engineering !

Now, I know that patent system supporters always get angry at me for declaring patents obvious, but take a read through the claims (not the abstract) and I defy anyone who knows anything about programming to explain how these patents do not describe incredibly obvious concepts.

Lots of things are ‘incredibly obvious’ but that does not mean that the patent for a METHOD to achieve that is also obvious, clearly it is not.

I know lots about programming, I expect in fact far far more than you do mike, but I understand that even if something is incredibly obvious (after you hear about it), does not mean the method of achieving that obvious effect is also obvious, or trivial, or not patentable.

ANYONE who knows ANYTHING about patents knows you do not patent the idea, you patent a method of achieving a result, yes that result might be obvious, but again, that does not mean that the method to achieve that is equially obvious.

What do you know about programming Mike, are you or have you ever been employed in the programming field ? (no writing web pages does not count) ?

could you knock out a UML diagram for a spanning tree algorithm off the top of you head ?

how about something even more simple how about a bubble search algoritm for a triple linked list ?

Yes, I am sure you can google those terms and come up with something and sounds almost correct, but that displays your ability to google things, not your ability to do software engineering.

(only unprofessional and backyard hackers call themselves ‘programmers’, real computer expects and code developers are called “Software Engineers”.)

No I am not a ‘programmer’ I am a software engineer but anyone who knows anything about programming would allready know that.

BTW: yes I have read the full patent, not just the summary, and I defy anyone who understands software engineering to state how that METHOD is obvious.

So mike in the one article you have displayed a complete lack of understanding about patents as well as a complete lack of understanding of software engineering and systems engineering.

This btw; is far more a Systems Engineering derived patent than it is a software patent.

I have yet to see a single algorithm or UML diagram or any explination of software methods employed.

The patent is a METHOD of achieving a result.

A spring is a very obvious thing as well, but when that spring forms part of a higher order device its obviousness has no meaning, you can put a spring into a mouse trap and patent the mouse trap, not the spring.

Yes, a mousetrap is also an incredibly obvious thing once you see it, it contains components that are equally obvious, but put together as a whole, it forms something that was not obvious and therefore it is a METHOD of achiving some goal. That ofcourse is obvious once you see it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Auther does not know about patents or software engineering !

I by no means claim to be a god amongst programmers, nor have I read the full patent because I have better things to do with my life, but based on the flowchart on how the system works, the UI is disgustingly obvious and any halfway decent database filter should be able to grab relevant data based on simple clicks to zoom in on a map. If the patent consists of more than this, then by all means I can be wrong. I’m not a patent lawyer and I pity those who have such a boring job.

As for “real developers call themselves ‘Software Engineers'” comment, I personally find that title to be an overly extravagant term. Software Engineer is to programmer is to developer as Administrative Assistant is to secretary is to personal assistant. A Software Engineer does the same job as a programmer and an Administrative Assistant does the same job as a secretary, the main difference is the perceived prestige by others based on the title.

Also I wouldn’t really say a mousetrap is a method to reaching a goal. It can be a step towards a goal if you place one, but the mousetrap itself isn’t a method to achieve a goal, just a mechanical tool waiting to be used.

darryl says:

Re: Re: Auther does not know about patents or software engineering !

“A Software Engineer does the same job as a programmer and an Administrative Assistant does the same job as a secretary,”

Administrative Assistant, is not the same as a secretary, they do not perform the same tasks AT ALL !!

Perhaps when you gain a bit of experience in the real world, and get out of Maccas you will see how wrong you are.

It is possible you were thing about “personal assistant” and adminastrative assistant, but that is not even a close comparison.

As for software engineer and programmer, it is more like the software engineer designs the system at the highest level and farms out the dogs body work to ‘programmers’.

Like an electronics engineer (my formal qualification) is responsible for the design of a system and the technicians get the soldering iron out and make the actual circuit, under the strict direction of the engineer in charge.

The primary difference between software engineer and ‘programmer’ is the attitude, a software engineer will not accept ‘bugs’ (engineering failures) and ensure adequate testing and refinement. Tasks that are beyond a programmer, who would rarly get to see or even understand the overall system.

people who do not mind shipping software ‘with a few small bugs’ or not quite up to any specification are regarded as programmers (or hackers), they ‘hack’ code and hope for the best.

a software engineer has the same (or far more) experience in programming as a ‘programmer’ has but also has the formal and engineering skills (and cirtifications) to produce product.

But when you are an electronics engineer with deep experience in software development you are regarded as a “Systems Engineer”. I will leave it up to you to work out (or google) what a Systems Engineer does.

I have been programming microprocessors since 1978 writing machine language software IN BINARY for the SC/MP and the Signetics 2650 CPU, (then the 8080 family).

I have been building microprocessor and microcontroller systems since that time, and have made a very successful career and living from it.

Most of the work I do now is mission critical, including scientific and medical instrumentation, SCADA systems, and industrial control systems.

There are arears where you require a systems engineer, and correct engineering procedures and Quality management procedures, code reviews and so on.

All the realm of software engineers and systems engineers not ‘hackers’ or ‘programmers’, generally.

The difference is in the method, quality and skills brought to the table for a specific task.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Auther does not know about patents or software engineering !

What does an administrative assistant do that a secretary doesn’t? They both answer phones, set schedules, keep their bosses on track for the day, does filing, etc. etc. The main difference is you don’t see many male secretaries because it’s a “female job”. The only thing I could maybe see being vastly different is a secretary probably sits down more than an assistant, but that doesn’t change the main parts of the job. Overall, a secretary is just an assistant.

But any programmer worth his salt knows the working on the highest level is the easiest ๐Ÿ˜‰

The only time software needs to be 100% bug-free is when someone’s life is on the line if it isn’t. I suppose all the people working on Windows, Linux, every other major program for users that aren’t risking their life is the program crashes aren’t software engineers then. I’ll be sure to let them all know. Accepting some amount of bugs is required for any big project to be released on time, but feel free to keep working away while you squash all the small bugs in your path while someone else finishes a good enough program and gets paid.

As for a software engineer having more experience than a programmer, a first year college student can easily get a software engineer internship (which is halfway to a full software engineer or even coop as a software engineer, meaning their full title is “Software Engineer”. Not intern, not programmer, but your glorious title. It’s just a title.

And honestly it doesn’t matter how big your epeen is because you’ve been programming since 1978 in binary and yada yada yada. Anyone can write software in binary since whatever year after they were born, it doesn’t make it GOOD software. Projects matter, not time. As they say, it’s the motion of the ocean that matters, not the length of the boat.

I agree with you that mission critical systems need to have as few bugs as possible (preferably none), but the perfectionist attitude doesn’t actually cut it for everyday needs (such as Windows, Linux, your web browser, etc.).

Your whole argument is basically that a person’s skills are based on their title and vice versa, but that’s not the case at all. You probably wouldn’t even be a system/software engineer if it weren’t for those “backyard hobbyist hackers” that practically made personal computing possible.

darryl says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Auther does not know about patents or software engineering !

its a shame the real world does not work like that, I am paid and paid well for making sure the products that I engineer work as required.

I do not ship bugs, and my clients to not accept software with bugs, my clients also do not care about getting it quicker or cheaper. They want something that WORKS.

I can provide that to them, and they pay me very well for my services.

I do not work for a company, or hide in the background I own my own engineering company and provide contract engineering projects, providing turnkey systems, so I am responsible for all aspects of the design, hardware, software, programming, fault finding, testing and certification.

I have to turn down clients because I have too much work to do, (and I dont feel like working that hard, and I dont need too).

I charge a very high rate, and my clients are more than happy to engage my services.

Yes, I can ‘walk the walk’ as well as ‘talk the talk’, how about you ?

The article about these patents clearly states that they are ‘software patents’ but if you were interested enough to read the patent, and knowledable enough to understand it, you would see clearly that this patent has nothing to do with software, but is a method of achieving a particular result.

Read the patent, and do your best to understand them. !!!!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Auther does not know about patents or software engineering !

It’s fine that you don’t ship bugs because seeing as you do medical stuff (as you say), it’s fairly important you don’t. People can die if you do. However that still isn’t true for code that doesn’t hold someone’s life in the balance. There is such thing as “good enough” code and that’s what’s usually shipped. Otherwise Windows 7 would probably never be out, Firefox probably wouldn’t exist, and chances are you wouldn’t even be having a conversation on the Internet.

Having bugs doesn’t mean “doesn’t work”, and in the case of good enough code (such as whatever your OS of choice is and whatever your browser of choice is), it works almost all the time but sometimes there’s an unforeseen problem. Life’s the same way, sometimes plans just don’t turn out the right way.

As for the actual patent, I admit I don’t have time to read the whole thing, but it honestly looks like a basic webapp that can be run from a smart phone that simulates an local info kiosk. The only part I don’t get is why there’s a fax machine ever involved because anyone who would use said webapp probably doesn’t have a fax machine and as for printing, let’s just say printing from the internet ain’t something new. Not to mention, if the webapp is being run on a smart phone, probably won’t need to print.

Something _very_ similar could be made using only google maps. The hardest thing would be getting advertisers that give localized ads to fill up the screen.

If we’re basing patents based on the method to achieve a result, making a portable info kiosk out of smart phones/PCs is the logical next step from localized info kiosks when PCs weren’t popular and the internet wasn’t as fast and powerful. So either way, it’s either a fairly obvious next step or a patent that covers any way of coding a system that lets users access a database and show places of interest on a map.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Auther does not know about patents or software engineering !

So Darryl, do you think Bjarne Stroustrup is an “unprofessional” or a “backyard hacker”? And that he knows nothing about programming? After all, Mr. Stroustrup describes himself as a programmer on page 730 of his C++ Programming Language, 3rd edition. Perhaps you should write to him about this. Oh, and make sure to tell him to change the title of his book to The C++ Software Engineering Language.

darryl says:

Re: Re: Auther does not know about patents or software engineering !

who said programmers do not know anything about programming, and yes there are some programmers who are very good and very skilled, just as there are some garbage collectors who are very skilled and very good at their job.

But there is a clear definition between software engineering and programming. That if you do not understand just shows you have never worked in that area.

a programmer writes the program under the guidance and instruction of a software engineer.

A welder welds metal (and can be very skilled at it) but without the direction of the site engineer as to what to weld and where and when he cannot perform his job.

BTW when you work out the difference beteen ‘programmer’ and “programming” then you might be taken seriously.

If you want your TV fixed you call a TV technician (programmer) if you want to design a TV you call an engineer.

If you want a house built you call a builder (programmer) if you want a house designed (or sky scraper) you call an engineer.

If you want a program you call a programmer, if you want a system engineered you call a Systems Engineer.

need I continue ? or have you worked it out by now ?

BTW: the best software engineers are the ones who rose from the ranks of programmers.

Just like the best electronics engineers are the ones that rose up as technicians. As they have the backgroud and experience to support them.

I have not have to refer to text books on “C” programming or C++ for many years, I have had no need too, most software engineers dont either, nor do they look at standard or specific algorithms. Or look over the shoulder of another company to see what they are doing so you can ‘innovate’ it yourself.

That is the sure sign of a hacker, (or backyard repair man) as opposed to someone who developes systems to a formal and quality assured standard.

Rich says:

Re: Re: Re: Auther does not know about patents or software engineering !

That’s utter bunk. All engineers I know have many books they reference daily, book on languages, hardware interfaces, protocols, industry standards, etc. I write software in several dozen languages. I couldn’t possibly memorize every aspect and esoteric corner of every language. To say you have is both meaningless (I mean, so what?), and most likely disingenuous.

indieThing (profile) says:

Re: Auther does not know about patents or software engineering !

Yeah, I thought you’d probably be one of those stuck up egotistical ‘software engineers’ who think there better than the rest of us ‘real programmers’. Let me tell you that in my 30+ years of programming, most of the ‘software engineers’ I’ve worked with couldn’t code their way out of a paper bag. They tend to be formally taught graduates and generally rely on pre-existing algorithms rather than use their creativity to create new algorithms.

A method is obvious if after some brainstorming and coding we come up with the same method without referring to the disputed method. I’ve had this happen many times, mainly in the 3D graphics field, where most algorithms were discovered in the 60’s. When I was teaching myself 3D programming, I worked out how to perform the basic calculations all by myself, then found out 6 months later that most of my algorithms already existed!

darryl says:

Re: Re: Auther does not know about patents or software engineering !

there you go, I am not a software engineer, I am an engineer who does software.

I have had jobs where my title is electronics engineer, technician, programmer, systems engineer, and yes software engineer.

No one in the industry things of others in their industry better or worse than themselves simply possessing a different and complementry skill set.

it is those who are clearly not in the industry who appear to lack this basic understanding, it is not about elitism or who is ‘better than who’, it is about what you do and how you go about doing it.

Rarly are these positions based on formal qualifications, but on your skills and experience.

Rich says:

Re: Auther does not know about patents or software engineering !

As Someone who have been a software engineer for 20 yrs, all I’ve got to say is Mike is right and you are completely wrong. And your rant about programmer vs. engineer is the same silly semantic argue I hear all the time. It is meaningless. I work with people from other companies that use the title “Programmer” not “Software Engineer” but they follow the same engineering methodologies that we do. They aren’t any less skilled than I, and they certainly aren’t “unprofessional.”

darryl says:

Re: Re: Auther does not know about patents or software engineering !

I never said they were “less skilled” or unprofessional, you are a software engineer damn well know that.

Of course a technician is a professional and is highly skilled, but a technician is not an engineer. Even you can work that out.

There is nothing wrong with being a programmer and I have no problems with people calling me a programmer, or in applying to jobs that require a “programmer”.

That does not say that there is not a clear differentiation between a programmer and a software engineer, or a systems engineer. Yes, they all do the same things, but at varying levels.

I do not get upset or cry if someone calls me a programmer, nor do I correct them and state ‘im not a programmer i am a software engineer’.

You Rich as a software engineer with 20 years experience would be aware of the “software crisis” that has been apparent for easily the past 20 years.

May be you would like to explain what that “software crisis” is and what it means. If you cannot I will happily do that for you.

But someone with your extensive experience would be well aware of the software crisis and what it means to the industry. And how the software industry is trying to resolve this crisis.

By applying correcting engineering methods to the development of software.

You Rich as a software engineer should be well aware of what the industry considers to be a ‘hacker’ of code, and the difference between unstructured and messy ‘spagetti code’ and correctly reviewed and certified quality code that meets correct engineering standards.

Hackers tend to just keep trying different things until something works, that has led to the ‘software crisis’.

but you know all this, if you do not I have to question your statement that you have been a software engineer for the past 20 years.

(especially considering that term has not been in use for that long !!)….

David says:

Bye Bye America

Bad patents and bad patent lawsuits are not just a problem for the tech industry. They’re hitting pretty much every industry these days, and those who support a totally broken patent system and the awful patents they produce are doing serious harm to innovation and the economy.

Mainly, this is a problem for any company (tech or otherwise) wanting to do business in America. About the only countries in the world to recognise software as patentable are America and Japan. One solution might therefore be abandon the USA and concentrate on China, Europe, India, Africa, Russia and South America.

America’s downgraded credit rating shows it no longer innovates as a nation. It was the biggest economy once but they blew it. So sad.

Alex Bowles (profile) says:

Prior Art

Though the court may not appreciate the joke, it would be hilarious if Prior Art filings were submitted in Ancient Greek, which is the language first used to describe, that’s right, “a method for generating maps from datasets.”

For added context, you could provide notes on how those lat/long datasets were generated using a combination of observations plotting the relationships between the north star and the horizon, and the difference in times elapsed between sunset and the start of a given eclipse viewed from two distant cities.

Larry Wright (user link) says:

Isn't CIVIX-DDI loosing?

The Federal Court dismissed the CIVIX-DDI allegations against on August 19th, just a few days after the National Association of Realtors ponied up $7.5 million. The coincidental timing is questionable and the real estate industry is mysteriously silent about this little known fact. I wonder how many Realtors will feel like SUCKERS when they are duly informed?

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