First American sues 8 rivals over AVMs: LENDER PROCESSING SERVICES (LPS)

Things that make you go Hmmm…

Patent infringement lawsuit seeks damages from Zillow, LPS, others

BY MATT CARTER, TUESDAY, MAY 4, 2010.

Inman News

First American CoreLogic Inc. has filed a lawsuit against eight companies, including Zillow Inc. and Lender Processing Services Inc., claiming the companies’ automated property valuation services infringe on a 1994 patent.

In its complaint, CoreLogic seeks an injunction against the companies to prohibit them from using or selling any products that fall within the scope of the patent, and for triple damages to “compensate CoreLogic for its profits lost.”

None of the companies named in the April 16 lawsuit have filed formal a response to the complaint, and none would comment to Inman News.

The companies named in the lawsuit provide automated valuation model (AVM) services to businesses or consumers — computer-generated property value estimates that typically rely on a property’s unique characteristics, public property records and other market statistics.

A spokeswoman for Zillow — a site that became one of the Internet’s most popular real estate portals by offering instant, free property “Zestimates” to consumers — said the company was aware of the lawsuit, and “has no plans to change any aspect of our business as a result of this complaint.”

LPS — a technology and data provider for the National Association of Realtors’ Realtor Property Resource database — said the company does not comment on pending litigation, but “does intend to continue providing AVM services.”

NAR’s RPR LLC subsidiary intends to generate revenue by incorporating active and sold listings data into automated property valuations that the company hopes will become a standard for the lending industry, government agencies and others (see story).

Other companies named in the lawsuit include: Fiserv Inc., Intellireal LLC, Interthinx Inc., Precision Appraisal Services Inc., Real Data Inc. and RealEC Technologies Inc.

Patent lawsuits can sometimes take years to resolve, as defendants may be able to demonstrate that a patent was issued for an idea that was not new, or that a patent claim was overly broad or vauge.

In its lawsuit, CoreLogic claims the rights to U.S. Patent 5,361,201, issued Nov. 1, 1994, for an “automated real estate appraisal system” and assigned by its inventors to HNC Inc

Summarizing the system in their patent application, inventors Allen Jost, Jennifer Nelson, Krishna Gopinathan and Craig Smith described how predictive models could generate estimated property values based on individual property characteristics and neighborhood or area characteristics.

Through a trial and error process, they said, the models could be fed “training data” in order to “learn” the relationships between individual property characteristics and area characteristics.

In the learning stage, the model’s predicted property values are compared to actual sales, and the weights assigned to different variables repeatedly adjusted to achieve the greatest degree of accuracy.

Although the process was similar in concept to established regression analysis techniques, the inventors said the application would also employ “neural networks” to automatically detect relationships between variables that would otherwise need to be detected and inputted manually by programmers.

Neural networks, they said, would allow rapid development of models and automated data analysis — a vital capability if the goal is to value properties in thousands of neighborhoods or areas, each requiring its own model.

Once the models had been developed, the inventors said, they could also be programmed to monitor their own performance and adjust their assumptions when performance dropped below a predetermined level.

In addition to an estimated property value, the models would be able to compute the predicted margin of error, allowing for a value range to be generated for each property — a common feature of AVMs offered to consumers.

The patent application described the algorithms and dozens of variables that could be used to generate valuations, and included source code written in ANSI C and Microsoft Excel macro.

The patent was assigned to Transamerica Intellitech Inc. in August 2000, and then to First American Real Estate Solutions, now part of CoreLogic.

First American is spinning off its information solutions group into a separate, publicly traded company, to be known as “CoreLogic.”

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