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Zynga and Blizzard Sued Over Game Patent

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the swinging-for-the-fences dept.

Patents 179

eldavojohn writes "Thinking about developing a game involving a 'database driven online distributed tournament system?' Well, you had better talk to Walker Digital or risk a lawsuit, because Walker Digital claims to have patented that 'invention' back in 2002. The patent in question has resulted in some legal matters for the makers of 'Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 1 and 2, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Call of Duty: World at War, Blur, Wolfenstein, DJ Hero 2, Golden Eye 007, World of Warcraft and its expansions, Mafia Wars, and many others.' Walker Digital (parent company of Priceline.com) said it's not sure how much damages are going to be, and requested that through discovery in the court. If you think Walker Digital is not a patent troll, check out their lawsuit from two months ago against Facebook for using privacy controls Walker Digital claims to have patented. It would seem that any online competitive game that uses a database to select and reward contestants in a tournament could potentially fall under this patent — of course, those with the deepest coffers will be cherrypicked first."

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179 comments

Unclear Intentions (5, Interesting)

pinkushun (1467193) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774738)

Software patents confuse the hell out of me. I mean, reading the patent abstract, it sounds like it could apply to any of thousands of database driven multiplayer tournament systems (games).

Case in point: I write database driven business applications, and is essentially just reading + writing data, similar to the abstract. Objects have statuses (scores) which pivot around a status hierarchy (levels) which determines if an object can move to the next level (game progression). Certain actions and events are even restricted by the ownership of certain properties and items (inventory/magic items/stats). This abstract could apply to many different softwares.

It pisses me off how this abstract reads just like it's own name. I wonder if it was filed by drunk 5-year olds...

Re:Unclear Intentions (0)

mlush (620447) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774906)

Crystal clear intentions it takes skill to write that vaguely and still skirt the law.... once there done with the game company's they will come after you.

Re:Unclear Intentions (3, Insightful)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775418)

I am writing patent applications for a living. Contrary to the popular slashdot meme, vagueness is not the slightest bit desirable in a well written patent. The objective is twofold: be as precise as possible, because vagueness will bit you in the arse in court, and cover as much ground as possible, to give the inventor the broadest protection you can get for him. Now, there's no doubt that there are a lot of shitty patents out there, especially in the field of software, and most especially in the USA. This however does not generalize to the whole field. I have the fortune of working in Europe, where our examiners would kick us out of the building with some of the shit that flies in the US - and actually they do, if we are unlucky enough to get a client who wants his US patent extended to the EU.

Re:Unclear Intentions (2)

mlush (620447) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775520)

You speak of a patent system as it should be used....

The sad fact is that vagueness is a highly desirable, if your a patent troll. The idea is to avoid court altogether and frighten the mark into settlement.

Walker Digital's big mistake will be to try this on a company with more than enough Scary Lawyers to defend its interests.

Re:Unclear Intentions (1)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775656)

It is how the patent system is in its majority. If you are not into the field, you only see the most egregious examples of shitty patents because they make the news. For every single one of those, there are hundreds of decent ones you never hear about.

Re:Unclear Intentions (1)

Steeltoe (98226) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775116)

This being public news and having read about it, we're now all liable for triple damages under the US court of law.

Cease and desist all your creative and innovative efforts now and go collect your foodstamps at the nearest corner now!

Re:Unclear Intentions (1)

kesuki (321456) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775130)

i call prior art, suing wolfenstein with a 2002 patent? last time i checked 1992 happened before 2002.

Re:Unclear Intentions (1)

lyinhart (1352173) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775156)

i call prior art, suing wolfenstein with a 2002 patent? last time i checked 1992 happened before 2002.

They're probably talking about the 2009 game [wikipedia.org] , which has online multiplayer.

Re:Unclear Intentions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34775208)

Last I checked, the remake of Wolfenstein 3D [wikipedia.org] (called Wolfenstein [wolfenstein.com] ) that includes online multiplayer, and thus actually matters for this article, came out in 2009.

Re:Unclear Intentions (1)

PincushionMan (1312913) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775700)

Actually, I think Unreal Tournament (UT99) had an online ranking system (based on a DB) somewhere in the 2000s. Any UT players out there that can confirm this? It was called something like ngWorldStats, but my memory could be wrong.

Re:Unclear Intentions (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775198)

I have no idea how they managed to file such a broad patent in the first place. My understandng of US patent law is that patents are usually filled with lots of little clauses and subsections precisely because broad generalities are not acceptable. Good thing we haven't got either software or "business practise" patents here in Europe! (for now and hopefully forever)

Re:Unclear Intentions (1)

Drakkenmensch (1255800) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775328)

Software patents confuse the hell out of me. I mean, reading the patent abstract, it sounds like it could apply to any of thousands of database driven multiplayer tournament systems (games).

That's the whole point of patent trolling. Patent a vague and ill-defined concept, wait for a company to make millions in profits, sue them for "infringing" on your vague ideas. It's the legal equivalent of saying "these guys stole my idea before I had it!"

Re:Unclear Intentions (1)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775348)

Software patents confuse the hell out of me. I mean, reading the patent abstract

You're supposed to read the claims. The abstract doesn't define the scope of the patent (although it can sometimes be referred to, just like the rest of the specification, for assistance in determining what certain claim terms mean).

I don't make any promises on being less confused by doing so, though.

Re:Unclear Intentions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34775472)

This. Every /. story about a patent should include the following in boldface, h1: CLAIMS, CLAIMS, CLAIMS, CLAIMS, CLAIMS

Re:Unclear Intentions (1)

Simon80 (874052) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775770)

I'd like to second the first reply with a link to Andrew Tridgell's talk on patent defence for free software developers. It's a must-read for anyone who bothers to look at the patents when they read these articles: http://news.swpat.org/2010/03/transcript-tridgell-patents/ [swpat.org]

Re:Unclear Intentions (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775368)

There is ZERO reason for software patents other than greed. Have you written letters to your congres-critters in your opposition of them? Because if all geeks and techs do is sit around and complain nothing will happen, you haveto complain AT the clueless guys in power to get change started.

Re:Unclear Intentions (1)

Bill_the_Engineer (772575) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775696)

There is ZERO reason for software patents other than greed.

Sure if you ignore the desire to recoup money spent to develop the software being patented. The concept of a software patent appears to be sound, but the implementation is fundamentally flawed. The main problem appears to be that the people involved in granting the patents are not qualified enough to understand what they are looking at in the patent application. I'm sure being understaffed and having a backlog of patent applications doesn't help either.

You assume that software appears out of thin air at no cost. Considering how easily it is to copy someone else's work, I think software patents are probably more important in the digital realm than the physical. What we should look at is why there is so many software patents being issued. Think about it, if we are suppose to only patent non-obvious and advance software technique then why are there so many? The skeptic in me thinks it's because the government does everything possible to help out the big corporate political contributors. The continued poor execution of issuing these patents has fundamentally changed the purpose of patents from allowing anybody to recoup their R&D expenses to keeping the little guys from competing against the established corporations.

I'm for software patent reform. We need better qualifications for patents, qualified patent clerks, and shorter duration patents for software related patents. I'm against abolishing all software patents, because throwing out the baby with the bath water is not a viable solution.

Re:Unclear Intentions (1)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 3 years ago | (#34776148)

We also need to blanket cancel all of the existing patents that read "a means for [solving a problem]". Not only do they fail the basic test of containing the information required to render the patent into practice, they don't describe a specific invention, they only describe the problem. Any solution to that problem is patented.

And no, "a means for [solving a problem] using THE INTERNET!!!!" (or in this case, "using A DATABASE!!!!") isn't an improvement.

This "using an X" bullshit is doubly damned since if I create an online ranking system using a flat file for storage instead of a database, it's impossible for anyone to know that unless I give them my source code. With money-sucking patent trolls, how do I know that they're actually going to respect the secrecy of my code instead of monetizing it every which way that they can? An NDA? Who am I going to sue, Patent Shellcorp A whose sole assets are a telephone, a desk, my own sourcecode, and the single patent itself? After all, it costs Patent Shellcorp A a lot of money to hire that management corporation that they pay 100% of its profits to. At least with an honest-to-goodness competitor, they'd almost certainly respect the NDA since they actually have something to lose. Add to that the fact that by the time they've gotten to the "discovery" of my source code, I've already accrued probably hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees and charges. Add to that the fact that the patent troll's attorney will have been spending that time working 80 hour days at $5000000/hr and expecting me to pay that when I lose or settle.

It's all a game (2)

gsslay (807818) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775648)

It pisses me off how this abstract reads just like it's own name.

It goes even deeper than that. Here's a game called "Patent". Players submit a description of something obvious and already existing to a database drive online tournament. If they get in first before other players they are rewarded with points which allows them to submit more descriptions of something obvious and already existing. If they don't get their patent into the tournament first, they lose points to other players. The winner is the one to first manage to patent the idea of the universe and everything it contains.

Clearly Walker Digital have patented the concept of the game "Patents", and the patent office has breached that patent. Patents issued by the US patent Office are therefore invalid, including Walker Digital's patent. The who shebang disappears up its own fundamental and can be ignored by everyone of any sense.

Re:It's all a game (1)

nullifi (1085947) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775738)

Can you link to this alleged game? Searching for "Patent game" is... less than satisfactory..

First they.. (-1, Offtopic)

lul_wat (1623489) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774740)

Post.

Re:First they.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34774784)

but not before they FAIL!

Starcraft 1 had a similar setup (4, Informative)

SpazmodeusG (1334705) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774750)

Blizzard really don't have to go far for prior art on this at all. Starcraft 1 had a system that was essentially the same as Starcraft 2's ladder system. You could choose to play a match in the Blizzard ladder system and you'd be ranked and the results stored on the Blizzard database server. The Starcraft 1 ladder was removed in later patches as no one was using it towards the end (they were playing on other custom laddering systems) but it was there in the beginning and it was very similar to what's in Starcraft 2.

It's actually quite funny that they've chosen to sue the one company that has the most prior art on this.

Yup (2)

fireylord (1074571) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774792)

Diablo2 and Battle.net may well cover this more than completely

Re:Starcraft 1 had a similar setup (1)

jonwil (467024) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774822)

Not only does Blizzard have plenty of potential prior art for this (although how applicable this potential prior art is depends on exactly what the patent claims say and not just what the abstract says) but they have an army of lawyers at their disposal and are not afraid to use them.

Re:Starcraft 1 had a similar setup (1)

arbiter1 (1204146) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774826)

I am no legal expert, the way the patent reads to me it seems it could be applied to every game that has online play and automated tournament's

Re:Starcraft 1 had a similar setup (1)

ewanm89 (1052822) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775160)

That seems to be what the patent trolls think too. in other words, how far back do you want to go with regards to prior art, pretty much every flash game on newsgrounds..., how about a shared flat file database of nethack scores on an nfs mount?

Re:Starcraft 1 had a similar setup (2)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775388)

Except that the prior art date to beat is 22 April 1996, and Starcraft didn't come out until 1999.

There may be some prior art for some of the claims, but you'd probably have to delve into the depths of MUDding to get it - and much of it may no longer exist.

Re:Starcraft 1 had a similar setup (1)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775564)

Blizzard wasn't the first. So the prior art problem is not so much of an issue.

This is another example yet again of a simple trivial and obvious thing being patented because the application was sprinkled with a little jargon.

All any of the relevant companies did (including the patent troll) is to translate a well known algorithm into another language (probably SQL and C).

Re:Starcraft 1 had a similar setup (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775896)

Not just prior art, but who in the hell isn't this obvious to? There needs to be some kind of extreme punishment for these patent trolls. For instance, sue someone for patnet infringement and lose, you have to pay triple what you sued for, plus the other side's legal fees.

examples... (1)

underqualified (1318035) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774762)

of "database driven online distributed tournament systems" that were popular even before 2002....

- utopia
- archmage

what else?

Re:examples... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34774800)

Counterstrike
Unreal Tournament

Re:examples... (1)

TheDarAve (513675) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774830)

Tradewars 2002 after v1.3d would qualify under that patent, and that would be early 90s.

Re:examples... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34775144)

oh, I remember Tradewars and its cousin Master of the Universe. I played them on an old dial up BBS service. I hit my first issue with cheating in online games back then. If you remember, in those games you got a certain number of "moves" per day (something like 30). I was one day away from becoming MOTU and would have been able to "decide the fate of the universe" when all of a sudden, overnight, every single other player on the system showed that they had attacked me within about an hour. Yes, the sysop was a big cheater - apparently didn't like to lose. Ah, the good old days...

Re:examples... (1)

the real darkskye (723822) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774918)

QM Promisance

Re:examples... (1)

Quietust (205670) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775450)

I don't think that game qualifies, since it's not a tournament system and it's not distributed. Besides, if it did qualify, there's no reason to single out my version of Promisance from the dozens of other versions that have been released over the years...

Re:examples... (1)

CProgrammer98 (240351) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775142)

When I read "a 'database driven online distributed tournament system" I immediately thought of the Cases ladder system. Back in '97 I was playing yahoo pool and used cases for our tourmaments, exactly the sort of thing this patent claioms to cover. A quick Google shows that Cases is still alive and well.

This is a prime example of why software patents are so very bad. It's far too generic and obvious an idea to patent. How it got granted I don't know. It beggers belief. To sit on it for so many years before filing for violations is just despicable,

I really hope the judge(s) throw it out of court very quickly.

Re:examples... (1)

Steeltoe (98226) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775146)

But were these types of systems documented in a public journal or did they apply for a patent before this one?

Otherwise, it's proprietary and not prior art. EVEN if Blizzard already created this type of systems in earlier iterations of their products, it's not defensible.

Maybe if it's public domain, GPL or some sort of open source, it could count if you're willing to place your bets in the US court of law..

The more expensive and risky route is to try to overthrow such patents on the grounds that they're obvious to any practitioner in the field, but that is almost never attempted because of the risky subjectiveness and arbitrariness of the whole patent system.

You think native Indians were happy to have their land expropriated? Well, now you know 1 promille of what they were feeling about "property rights".

Rooting for the lawyers (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774766)

I hate patent trolls, but I hate that Farmville shit I get spammed with even worse. I hope the troll and Zynga both spend millions on lawyers and then settle for peanuts.

Re:Rooting for the lawyers (1)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774948)

We should not hope for a settlement in a patent troll case, however tiny the amount. Patent trolls love settlements, because a settlement does not set a legal precedent, and leaves the troll open to sue more companies. Here's the model patent trolls follow, especially for ridiculous patents like this one.
1) Patent
2) Sue for billions
3) Settle or license the tech.
4) ...
5) Profit!

Companies like Walker Digital don't really want their crappy patent to be actually contested in court; if it gets thrown out, the game is up. The good news is that I expect none of the companies sued will be content to settle, since they'll expect to use the same tech in future games.

Re:Rooting for the lawyers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34775046)

actually I hope that they not only win but they win an outrageous amount. only through repeated high-profile abuses will software patent reform ever occur. basically we need a collapse of the entire software industry.

If I were the judge... (4, Interesting)

GF678 (1453005) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774804)

If I were the judge presiding over this case, the first thing I'd do is ask Walker Digital to explain why it took eight years before they decided to start suing publishers/developers, despite there being a number of games released earlier which supposedly infringed on their patent. If they couldn't reasonably explain the delay in such a way as to allay my suspicious that they simply wanted to hold off litigation until they had a lot of guys to go after for maximum returns, I'd tell them (in legal speak of course) to fuck off.

But I am no lawyer of course, and I have no idea if it would be as simple as that.

Re:If I were the judge... (1)

ledow (319597) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774832)

It could certainly go against them to choose not to initiate lawsuits on similar violations that they were (or reasonably should have been) aware of. It's not as cast-iron as trademark law (where not defending your mark means you can lose your rights to it) but it's certainly something that would need explanation if there was a hint of deliberate action in that respect.

That said, it will still cost thousands to even get to that point and the worst that would happen is probably the case would just get thrown out, they'd go bankrupt and you'd never recoup your legal costs from the administrators.

Re:If I were the judge... (4, Interesting)

arivanov (12034) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774880)

There is nothing illegal in waiting for as long as you want as far as patents are concerned.

It is standard practice to wait for companies that are still developing their business cases and products until they can be visited by the lawyers. The approach is originally attributed to IBM. It left all the PC clone manufacturers start their business, develop it for up to a year or two prior to being visited by two nice guys in suits with a briefcase containing patents, IPR agreement and an NDA which specified that the visit was to be kept secret.

They made a significant portion of their early PC revenue from that racket until they ran into Compaq.

IMO, allowing this practice is one of the problems with the current patent system. Most "trolls" use patents that have been developed by other companies, stayed in the war chest for a decade or so and have been deemed to outlive their usefulness so they can be sold. If there are clear and reasonable timeframes for discovery, filing, etc the entire troll business model will go away. There will be a side benefit that companies will start disclosing what they are actually using internally in their software and hardware to ensure that that they comply to the "disclosure" timeframe and the troll cannot claim "discovery" after the "invention" has been out in the field for 15 years.

Re:If I were the judge... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34774930)

> They made a significant portion of their early PC revenue from that racket until they ran into Compaq.

Not sure how you can claim it was a racket. IBM created the PC to begin with. Compaq danced around it by using a then legal reverse engineering process. IBM offered to then license out their ideas rather then sue them.

I recommend watching "Triumph of the Nerds" as it goes into more details as to how they reverse engineered it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triumph_of_the_Nerds

Re:If I were the judge... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34774992)

There is nothing illegal in waiting for as long as you want as far as patents are concerned.

Then it fucking should be.

Re:If I were the judge... (1)

DigitalSorceress (156609) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775400)

It's not illegal, but there's a legal term called "Laches [wikipedia.org] " which essentially means that if you use such "delayed rights assertion to maximize 'damages'" approach, you risk the court reducing or eliminating the damage awards... /NOT a lawyer

Re:If I were the judge... (1)

arivanov (12034) | more than 3 years ago | (#34776066)

Laches does not work here because the usual case is:

1. Patent is filed by company A (usually big one), sits in the war chest for 15 years, unused.
2. A couple of years before expiry the patent is sold by the company A IPR licensing department to a patent troll which has done its homework and has noted 20-30 potential targets (or a couple of lucrative ones) which have been violating the patent for 10+ years.
3. Patent troll goes to court with the patent and request for injunctive relief.

The defendant cannot claim laches because the patent troll did not own the patent while the infringement has been going on. It was owned by another company.

IBM ran into Apricot trying this one .. (1)

niks42 (768188) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775510)

Apricot were mildly offended by the threat of legal action, since at the time they were purchasing the motherboards for their systems FROM IBM.

Re:If I were the judge... (1)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775350)

Lawyer speak for that particular phrase is "I refer you to the response with respect to the case of Arkell v. Pressdram (1971)."

A symptom, not a cause (1)

LordNacho (1909280) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774812)

The fact that people set up patent trolling firms isn't the problem. It's the laws that have gotten out of hand, too far away from the original intentions, and not keeping up to date with technological advancements that make PT firms a viable play.

No idea what to do about it, though. The problem isn't confined to one country, and even if it was, the lawyers are influential in congress, and ofc they make money off these lawsuits. It's a tax on innovation.

Re:A symptom, not a cause (1)

msclrhd (1211086) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774868)

How about requiring patent holders to have a product that they sell in order to hold the patent.

This would get rid of the holding/shell companies that just buy patents for the purpose of sueing other companies to make their money. It would also mean that a company has to actually produce something that uses the patent in question first, instead of saying "hay, we could move into this direction in the future, so lets patent it to reduce the competition.".

Re:A symptom, not a cause (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34774892)

wouldn't work. In this example you bang up a product in about a day. Nobody would buy it or use it - butu hey - you have a product there......

Re:A symptom, not a cause (1)

LordNacho (1909280) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774932)

How about requiring patent holders to have a product that they sell in order to hold the patent.

This would get rid of the holding/shell companies that just buy patents for the purpose of sueing other companies to make their money. It would also mean that a company has to actually produce something that uses the patent in question first, instead of saying "hay, we could move into this direction in the future, so lets patent it to reduce the competition.".

That's just a legal patch on an already burdensome system. If you want to prevent people from knocking up a simple product, you'll need to invent more rules about what constitutes a "working product". And then you have more lawyers...

Re:A symptom, not a cause (1)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775452)

While getting rid of patent holding companies might be a worthwhile goal, this will not work. I make my living in the patent business - let me show you one example. One of our clients is an independent engineer developing air suspension systems for vehicles. Do you want to deny him the right to his inventions unless he starts producing bloody lorries himself?

Re:A symptom, not a cause (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34774872)

Part of the problem of not being confined to one country is that countries that have the problem try to get other countries to adopt their crazy laws, because until that happens, said countries are at a disadvantage. Now start kicking out those lawyers and make some sense of all this crap.

Multi-User Dungeon (5, Informative)

maroberts (15852) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774818)

MUD Essex University 1978-1987ish - kept a record of your level (thus a database), being rewarded with increased abilities every level until you got to Witch/Wizard level, and allowed remote play.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MUD [wikipedia.org]
http://www.mud.co.uk/richard/ecsjun84.htm [mud.co.uk]

Obviously it depends on exactly how the claims of the patent are phrased, but from the abstract it would appear that this constitutes substantial prior art nearly 20 years before the 2001 filing date.

A quick look at some of the claims show it would probably be prior art against some of them. The game stored level and sex, (claims 1-2), it was a game of skill (claim 3). Claims 8,9,10 appear to be fairly generic method of interacting with any remote game, leaving only the association of payment with the game. I'm sure online games needing payment were present in the 80's too

In summary, the patent appears to have been awarded for something that is obvious and where prior art already exists

Re:Multi-User Dungeon (1)

MISplice (19058) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775030)

For a Pay to play online game you just have to go back to the old Sierra Network system in the early 90's they had a graphical MMO style game that you had to pay extra to play above and beyond the normally hourly subscription you paid to be online called s The Shadow of Yserbius. There was also Neverwinter Nights on AOL at the same time which cost 6 dollars an hour to play back in 1991.

Re:Multi-User Dungeon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34775048)

Valhallla USA based on diku mud had payment back in early 90's..

Re:Multi-User Dungeon (1)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775320)

add on "over the internets" which in their speak is "database driven online distributed tournament system" and suddenly you are patenting a whole new item in the world of lawyers and trolling companies.

There are many items I have seen raised here which I clearly remember being done in the old BBS days gone by, most of which are being claimed as "new" because they add phrases pertaining to abilities widely used on the "internet"

Re:Multi-User Dungeon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34775886)

Could something largely non-computer count at prior art, or at least a strike for obviousness? I didn't read the patent, but these comments make me think of things like bowling leagues, horse races, tennis or chess tournaments, or other activities. It's multiplayer. Players generally pay money at least to play. And somewhere there's a guy with a database (whether on paper or on computer) tracking it all.

Re:Multi-User Dungeon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34776284)

I'm sure online games needing payment were present in the 80's too.

Well yes, in fact there was a version of MUD on the Compunet [wikipedia.org] system that charged to play.

Patents (4, Insightful)

ledow (319597) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774828)

And this is the problem with even doing business in a country that allows such abstract "patents", especially software patents. You don't need to be in the patent business, or invention, or even be in an area where you expect to have to research patents for running a business, and you don't even need to actually violate any valid patent - you can still sued out of existence if you're not big enough to fend such things off.

It's not the "yet-another-big-company-sued-for-obviousness" stories that are the problem - how many tiny little outfits just settled out of court instead of fight something they *know* they should win? You don't point at Google first, you take lots of small companies and get their settlements in order to provide you with some authenticity and then go for the big boys, and you'll never hear about those small-fry that feel they have to pay up because it's too costly for them to annoy the patent-holders or defend against them in court.

Seriously - stop doing business in places that have software patents. It's a gamble that is going to cost you big if you are unlucky enough to step on a patent-troll's foot. I hereby patent "method to determine if a user of a game is in a country subject to software patent laws for the purpose of denial of access to such users", by the way.

Foolish Patent Troll. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34774838)

They should have first sued people with less money so that they could set a precedent.

Re:Foolish Patent Troll. (2)

Dutchmaan (442553) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774860)

This is like a patent troll in quest greens going up against the Blizzard boss.

Sounds like trade wars to me (1)

solune (803114) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774848)

anyone else remember "trade wars," the popular BBS game from pre-internet gaming?

Seems that would be "prior art," though I'm not well versed in such matters.

Re:Sounds like trade wars to me (1)

night_flyer (453866) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774908)

Trade Wars, Legend of the Red Dragon, Yankee Trader, Barren Realms Elite, pretty much ANY BBS door game fits that description, and all are much older than 2002

hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34774852)

If at first you don't succeed... sue those who have.

Re:hmmm (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774874)

I prefer "those who can, do. Those who can't, sue."

Patents hinder innovation (-1, Troll)

fadir (522518) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774870)

I cannot picture a single situation where patents actually help the society. It benefits very few and punishes the majority. The product should matter, not a theoretical idea behind it.

Re:Patents hinder innovation (1)

DarkXale (1771414) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774926)

Patents are intended to protect Research & Development, so that those who spend millions, or billions, into research don't get it copied just like that without any chance of recovering the costs whatsoever. Without it, research and development become a much less lucrative field. We get hurt because in the end, very few bother with actually developing technology, and that hurts society.

Re:Patents hinder innovation (1)

fadir (522518) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774952)

Many (if not most) real research projects are backed or even fully financed by the government anyway. The little research that is actually done fully privately is pretty unimportant compared to the massive damage (high prices, keeping competition and further innovation away) that patents cause.

Source please (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34775036)

See subject

Re:Source please (1)

DarkXale (1771414) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775402)

Ask most major R&D firms, ask many individuals who work with it.

Re:Patents hinder innovation (1)

oobayly (1056050) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774934)

I cannot picture a single situation where software patents actually help the society. It benefits very few and punishes the majority. The product should matter, not a theoretical idea behind it.

FTFY

I see no problem with patents for products which require large amount of tooling for prototypes. They're there to allow you to invent a product, and stop others from copying it once you've spent large amounts of time and money getting it to work.

I'd be fairly pissed off if I came up with some fantastic new aero engine, spent of thousands of pounds on the tooling to build a prototype, get it working as expected, only for Rolls Royce or General Electric to copy it. What incentive would there be for me, even if it was for the greater good?

As a programmer, I can see no rationale behind software patents. Luckily the UK-IPO appears to reject software patents, though it seems the courts can force them to be accepted.

Re:Patents hinder innovation (1)

fadir (522518) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775028)

How often do things like your example happen? How often does it happen that companies like GE & Co. sue the living hell out of a tiny new company that might turn into a competitor one day?

Re:Patents hinder innovation (1)

oobayly (1056050) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775360)

How often do things like your example happen?

Obviously more often than you think: James Dyson, Trevor Baylis amongst others. What patents allow is for an inventor to protect his invention without the fear of a larger company taking his idea. They don't have to stifle innovation as they can be licensed.

How often does it happen that companies like GE & Co. sue the living hell out of a tiny new company that might turn into a competitor one day?

You've obviously completely missed my point, how can GE "sue the living hell out of a tiny new company" if that tiny company has taken a patent out on its invention?

I was simply responding to your comment that you "cannot picture a single situation where patents actually help the society.", which was a fairly sweeping statement. Just because patents can (and are) misused, it doesn't mean they have no place in society.

Patent seems to not cover this at all (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34774878)

Reading the patent and going by the diagrams, but more importantly the background provided on page 11, it seems that the patent only applies where you charge for entry and pay cash prizes.

They have even in the background specifically provided examples of companies that do one but not the other:

"One of the companies providing games in this new environment is NTN Communications.. the game has a major drawback, however, in that there are no prizes awarded to players. The competitive drive is diminished when there is no prize for winning. It's like playing a game of poker without using money."

Page 12: "In the invented system, players pay entry fees to compete for substantial prizes in electronic tournaments. Unlike existing tournament systems, the present invention allows for the coordination of multiple tournaments, making each tournament part of a whole rather than a stand-alone tournament".

It seems therefore that they have explicitly recognised as prior art and do not cover in their patent tournament systems that do not have monetary prizes. Moreover, tournaments that do have cash prizes should be allowed as long as they are not multiple coordinated tournaments. This is simple enough because systems such as the Battle.net ranking is arguably not a tournament, but rather an entirely different system of determining player skill. You can therefore create independent tournaments based on the player skill score, or invitations, as long as the result from each tournament is not contributed back into the player skill score.

Re:Patent seems to not cover this at all (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34774902)

Each one of the claims describes what is actually patented, and the first one of them doesn't talk about money 1. A method of conducting a distributed electronic tournament for a plurality of players, comprising: exchanging information between a central controller and a player located remotely from the central controller, the information (i) being exchanged while the player plays a game in the tournament and (ii) influencing game play; and storing in a database player information associated with the player, the stored player information being available for use in a subsequent tournament to influence game play of the subsequent tournament while the player is playing a subsequent game in the subsequent tournament.

Legal defense ideas (1)

whiteboy86 (1930018) | more than 3 years ago | (#34774886)

Those leeches deserve a present from orbit.., but is there a way to fight them ?

For starters, they are NOT USING their "inventions", only trolling. Or what about suing them back for extortion or unfair enrichment?

Pay for MUD (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34774898)

Compunet (Commodore 64 network, UK only) ran a copy of MUD on their DEC10 - it was GBP1.10/hour (on top of Compunet access) to play - definitely billable time...

See: http://www.mud.co.uk/muse/compunet_mud.htm [mud.co.uk]

Level 60 Patent Troll? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34775064)

Somebody please provide appropriate WoW, Farmville and car analogies for this matchup

Poor Zynga (1)

happy_place (632005) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775138)

I have to admit I'm torn by this story. Sure software patents are the bane of all that's fine and decent in the world, but Zynga is the bane of all that's fine and decent in gaming. So a part of me wants to see the two parties sue each other into oblivion... but then, I tend to like Blizzard's games... Sigh... why does the world have to be so darn complicated?

Re:Poor Zynga (3, Interesting)

ledow (319597) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775298)

Nobody forces you to play a game. Zynga have made a lot of money by giving people games that they voluntarily want to play and, in some cases, buy. Just because it's not *your* (or my) type of game, doesn't mean they are somehow inherently the antithesis of gaming. I don't understand people that pay monthly subscriptions to play crappy click-fest MMORPG's just to get to the next "virtual" level but it's hard to say that they are the "bane" of gaming.

I spent a small fortune on Steam over Christmas, on an already bursting-at-the-seams account. I got 75 new games for less than the price of a Wii. Do you know what I ended up playing the most (without intending to) and what I ended up gifting to friends who also wouldn't get off it? Flight Control HD. It's a flash-like game where you draw flight-paths for cartoon planes to have them land at their relevant airport runway without hitting each other. I could write it in a few hours in any programming language that lets you manipulate pixels or draw bitmaps. Thing is, I have extracted more gaming value from that than expensive, new, 3D, top-range FPS with advanced physics, realistic graphics and online gaming. If you go by hours-of-entertainment-per-price, it rates extremely highly. My previous big-value-purchase? Altitude. Fly a little 2D plane around while shooting other people doing the same. (And no, I'm not plane-obsessed in any way - they just happen to both be fun games). It cost me £3 and I've played 200+ hours and even set up my own server for it. Grand Theft Auto IV? I got it on the Steam Christmas sales because it worked out to be about 3 pounds, but even GTA 3 was only 10-15 hours of play for me and cost about £30 at the time (I didn't even buy GTA 3, someone else gifted it to me). I haven't even bothered to download it yet - I'll leave it until I'm bored of the other 74 games I bought this Christmas and have nothing else to play. There are *very* few big name, "complex" games that can give me value anywhere near a little mess-around game. And if that value is present, even when I *can* see it (e.g. Half-Life 2 when it first came out) it has to work REALLY hard to get me to part with my money.

I don't think I played any Zygna titles except for Farmville and that was mostly to see what the fuss was about (I was late to Facebook but eventually succumbed to using it as an online photo gallery, and - mainly to prove a point - in a week of playing Farmville for free for 10 minutes a day I had something valued about 10 times what my closest "obsessive" friends had managed in years with their DLC purchases... it was just a matter of seeing what provided the greatest return on investment without actually spending *real* money to buy things). I don't play their games, I find them a bit too simplistic and boring and aimed towards making profit. But hell, I've played many more worse games that cost lots of *real* money.

Zygna are making money from people who are willingly parting with cash and giving it to them rather than to companies like Valve - there's a reason for that. Without Zygna, they *wouldn't* be giving their money to Valve or other high-end-gaming producers anyway. They haven't *ruined* gaming, they've just found a niche that most people who consider themselves serious gamers (if ever there was a contradiction in terms, that's it) don't like. Good luck to them - they aren't hurting anyone. But if they could stop everyone else from spamming my Facebook page with crap by default, that would be nice too.

Re:Poor Zynga (1)

phoenixwade (997892) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775404)

But if they could stop everyone else from spamming my Facebook page with crap by default, that would be nice too.

Why is anyone complaining about spam from Zynga games? I've blocked them using the built in tools and I only see the very rare personal post by a player concerning the game they play, now. It's been like that for me for over a month.

Re:Poor Zynga (1)

ledow (319597) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775538)

Block FarmVille.
Block FrontierVille.
Block CityVille.
Block MafiaWars.
Block PetVille.

Fishville, YoVille, .... the list goes on. Although it's partly Facebook's fault (that you can't block a publisher, or categories like "Games"), and partly people's fault (I really don't give a shit, so stop pressing the button to "Share" just so you get some in-game item), there's no need for them ALL to, by default, push to your friends pages, or for them to all run off a unique application page. And everytime they bring out a new game I have to block that too. And then I have the *other* publishers to deal with.

Zygna do it partly deliberately to gain exposure and I can completely understand that and they're doing nothing "wrong" by Facebook's terms, or by circumventing requiring human interaction. It's just that I don't filter my spam by individually removing single people from a list. I really don't care about games, or Zygna games in particular, postings on my friend's Facebook pages. But I can't do anything so general as block just those categories. Zygna and/or Facebook should really be pushing to implement a "don't piss me off" category for either individual publishers or specific types of application. If someone is turning you off anyway, they are NOT a potential customer, so at least stop pissing them off further.

distributed? (1)

mustPushCart (1871520) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775216)

If i am reading the patent correctly, it says database driven distributed tournament system. This would mean that while matchmakign is done with a database (centralized) it is ultimately a distributed system i.e. peer to peer? Wow and farmville etc are centralized so why are they suing them? perhaps because MMORPG's were less prolific before 2000 while matchmaking for p2p mplayer has been around for a long long time?

Re:distributed? (1)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775602)

It sounds like a very questionable definition of "distributed" is being used here.

Likely the database is centralized. It's only the results that are "distributed". Even then, that's "distributed" in the sense that it is published.

A database server + a web server is not a distributed database. Although that's probably what's in the patent.

Sue the Patent Office (4, Interesting)

jklovanc (1603149) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775262)

I wonder if anyone has tried or even contemplated suing the Patent Office for awarding overly broad and obvious patents. There would not be so much trouble if the Patent Office actually did their job and denied these kinds of patents.

Re:Sue the Patent Office (0)

andydread (758754) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775324)

+1 i like

Re:Sue the Patent Office (1)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775460)

So, can you show that the claims were obvious, in accordance with the law?

The prior art date to beat is 22 April 1996, and you have to show - not just make unsubstantiated assertions - that the claims were obvious over the prior art as of that date. That means citing references that cover the limitations in the claims, and substantiating an argument for why those references can be combined and why any differences between the references and the claims would have been obvious. (The whole story is a bit more complicated [wikipedia.org] than that, but I'd be typing for a long time if I went through the whole thing.)

And finally, obviousness isn't considered from the viewpoint of an expert in the field, but rather of one having ordinary skill in the art.

Re:Sue the Patent Office (1)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775626)

This "patent" could be a homework assignment from a University class in databases.

The interesting part isn't even the computing aspect.

This is just e.patent-trolling.

Re:Sue the Patent Office (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775882)

1. Running a tournament that has an entry fee and requires personal data from each player is not patentable.
2. Storing a player's information on paper is not patentable.
3. Running a tournament where the outcome of previous tournaments influence new tournaments is not patentable.
4. Storing information in a database is not patentable.
5. Client server interaction is not patentable.
6. Using the Internet is not patentable.

Yet using a database to store player information about an on-line tournament is patentable? The issue is all they have done is change the medium of storage. It would be the same as someone trying to patent storing music on a hard drive.

Did the patent reviewer have "ordinary skill in the art" of databases and/or tournaments? I doubt it.

Re:Sue the Patent Office (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34775548)

The PTO follows the Constitution, US Code, judicial precedent and the rules set forth by the BPAI and the MPEP in examination of patent applications. This doesn't excuse the examiner of missing pertinent prior art, but it does mean an examiner can't break the law to reject patents you don't like.

Re:Sue the Patent Office (2)

jklovanc (1603149) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775736)

One of the concepts of patent-ability in the US Code is non-obviousness. If a patent reviewed and approved by an examiner who does not have "ordinary skill in the art" how can he say whether or not it is obvious. The Patent Office has long been criticized for not keeping up with technology and failing to hire advisers who are up to date on current trends.

My sonar detects a submarine patent here .. (1)

niks42 (768188) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775542)

... hmmmm ... suspicious ..

Who sued IBM, HP, Sun for exclusive OR? (1)

niks42 (768188) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775590)

I recall back in the 80s, when we were developing graphics displays that some bunch of lawyers in California bought up some IP, and turned up a patent for use of XOR function to put a cursor on a graphics screen, and use XOR to restore the graphics again when it moved. The patent predated IBM, HP and Sun's use on unix workstations by a few years. It sounded obvious to me at the time, but they got money out of it. What they didn't realise was that they should not have accepted the first offer from the three companies of $300,000 each - since all three companies had gone to the meeting with permission to spend $30M each.

Really... (1)

ShadoeKnight (1311151) | more than 3 years ago | (#34775998)

Yep, its beautifully smart to sue Blizzard over this. They are only the first or second highest grossing video game company in the world. Think about it, World of Warcraft has approximately 12 million subscribers according to Blizzard. That's $14.99 x 12, 000, 000 = $179, 880, 000 per month, or $2, 158, 560, 000 a year, that's a little over $2 BILLION! That's ONE GAME and they bought Activision so they have many more. Your piddly little patent trolling is going to be a speedbump to them and they are going to make you feel small and insignificant, because you are. Better luck next time, and it won't be with the biggest producer of portable games in the world, Zynga, either. The only smart play they have is to settle out of court if offered. If I was Blizzard I wouldn't offer on general principle. I would bankrupt them and laugh in their faces.

Summary of the claims (2)

Per Abrahamsen (1397) | more than 3 years ago | (#34776112)

Claim 1-3 cover all client server games with persistent data.

The oldest such game I know of is from 1971, but I'm sure there are examples predates that.

Claim 4-5 adds payment to that. That was not common on the early internet, but common on the for payment BBS's of the 80's.

Claim 6-7 adds "prizes" to the first claim, without defining the term. It would seem to cover any client-server game with a high-score

Claim 8-10 add a physical computer to the above claims: "No sir, this is not a software patent, it is a patent on software running on a computer. Totally different. Down with software patents!".

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