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The Almighty Buck Patents Entertainment Games

Are Video Game Patents Next? 443

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the this-could-get-scary dept.
MarcOiL writes "Gamasutra is running an article titled It's Just a Game, Right? Top Mythconceptions on Patent Protection of Video Games where two IP lawyers try to convince the videogame industry of patenting everything in sight: ideas, technical contributions, etc. They show as an example a Microsoft patent on Scoring based upon goals achieved and subjective elements. They also have created a weblog, The Patent Arcade, to promote their business. Will this be the real end of innovation in videogames?"
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Are Video Game Patents Next?

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  • ugh (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @08:57AM (#12693016)
    "where two IP lawyers try to convince the videogame industry of patenting everything in sight: ideas, technical contributions, etc. "

    Q. What do you have when you have 2 lawyers buried up to their necks in cement?

    A. Not enough cement.
    • Re:ugh (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      A2. Not enough lawyers.
    • IMHO We should track them down and beat them to death with a teaspoon. Or giving them The Eternal Wedgie (superglue in underpants, then perform regular wedgie, hold until dry) is acceptable too.
    • Re:ugh (Score:3, Funny)

      by HopeOS (74340)
      For these guys, I think we need...

      Q. How many lawyers does it take to shingle a roof?

      A. Depends on how thinly you slice them...

    • Re:ugh (Score:3, Funny)

      by blunte (183182)
      You have target practice.
    • Re:ugh (Score:3, Funny)

      by Ian Peon (232360)
      Q: Why don't sharks bite lawyers?

      A: Professional courtesy!

      ------

      Q: What's the difference between a sucker fish and a lawyer?

      A: One's a scum sucking bottom dweller, and the other's a fish!

  • by mopslik (688435) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @08:59AM (#12693026)
    I thought I remembered seeing a Slashdot story or post about Namco holding a patent on "displaying a mini-game while the actual game is loading" not too long ago.
    • by Game Genie (656324) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @09:06AM (#12693102)
      Too bad nobody has patented "really frickin slow load times". Perhaps I should get the patent and then refuse to licence it. That would save us all a lot of trouble.
    • Surely there's oodles of prior art back on the old 8-bits?

      I fondly remember invaderload on Alpha Centauri!
    • by Stunning Tard (653417) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @09:12AM (#12693168) Journal

      I saw that on slashdot last week with 'A Gamers' Manifesto' [pointlesswasteoftime.com]

      From the essay:
      Patents. Did you know there's a patent held by some microscopic software company on spherical camera controls in realtime 3D, and they're starting to level lawsuits against EVERYONE? Did you ever wonder what happened to force feedback, controllers that push your hands around so you can feel the action in the game as well as see it (we're talking real force feedback, not controllers that vibrate like pagers)? Somebody has a patent, that's what. Did you know you can't have mini-games during a loading screen because of patent law?
      • by LionMage (318500)
        I started reading this manifesto, and I was immediately struck by some of the brain damaged logic the writer employs. Here's an example, culled early on from the section on AI:

        It has to do with the fact that both the XBox 360 and the PS3's Cell CPU use "in-order" processing, which, to greatly simplify, means they've intentionally crippled the ability to make clever A.I. and dynamic, unpredictable, wide-open games in favor of beautiful water reflections and explosion debris that flies through the air prett

    • Prior art available (Score:5, Informative)

      by FromWithin (627720) <stuff@@@fromwithin...com> on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @09:15AM (#12693198) Homepage

      That patent can probably be killed with prior art. The Commodore 64 had "Mix-E-Load" during loading of the cassette version of Thalamus' Delta in 1987. This had music playing and would let you mess with the tracks, changing the bass line, drum beat, etc. and letting you mix your own music.

      A year later, in 1988, the Mastertronic game Kane 2 had a Space Invaders game (called Invade-A-Load) that you played while the main game was loading. Again, this was on the cassette version.

      These can be played by downloading the relevant .TAP files [64.no] and loading them into an emulator such as x64 [viceteam.org].

      Anyway, back on-topic, most of the classic games in existence would not be with us had game companies been patenting stuff like these mutants are suggesting.

      • Who gives a shit about prior art? What if the concept really is original? Do they deserve to sit on it and squeeze everyone else for 20 fucking years for it?

        This sort of thing needs to stop NOW. Game companies that take out patents need to be boycotted when the word gets out to gaming fan sites, existing disks need to be returned to them in pieces.

        But it won't happen. I guarantee it will never happen. We will bend over and ask for it harder and deeper once they dangle a few more shiny objects in fron
      • Also Rescate Atlantida [worldofspectrum.org], by Dynamic, would let you play MasterMind during the loading phases (this was a multi-load game). Released in 1988.
  • Video gaming is a huge industry, bigger than music, bigger than movies, bigger than cellphones.

    Freaking huge. Gigantic. Teens, young adults, adults dumping - THROWING - disposable income at the latest, the greatest, the trendy, the hip, the best.

    It's too big for the major players to f*$@ up. If a minor player tries to get these patent stuff racheted up the big boys will crush them - and crush them fast and/or acquire them.

    • Re:Video games... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Spad (470073)
      You mean until EA starts patenting everything in sight.
    • Hate to break it to ya, but Sony's already had to pay $90million to Immersion, a "minor player" who claimed a patent on the Dual Shock pad.

      It's going to go the same way as the software industry is headed: everyone's infringing everyone else's patents so the only way to ensure your own safety is to have enough patents that you could turn them against the attacking party. This has the side effect of killing any small company who doesn't have a portfolio big enough to be a threat.
  • D&D as Prior Art? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ect5150 (700619) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @09:00AM (#12693042) Journal
    I would imagine any D&D would be prior art in a general games category? MSoft wasn't exactly the first company to get into games. I'm not sure how they can get a pantent on how points are awarded. Any D&D DM has subjective power to award points, and MS didn't exactly put D&D out there.
    • by gowen (141411)
      I would imagine any D&D would be prior art in a general games category?
      Then they'll just add the words "using a computer" to each of their claims.
    • by Java Pimp (98454)
      I would imagine any D&D would be prior art in a general games category? MSoft wasn't exactly the first company to get into games. I'm not sure how they can get a pantent on how points are awarded. Any D&D DM has subjective power to award points, and MS didn't exactly put D&D out there.

      You seem to have missed the key prhases: "on the internet" or "using a computer". Those two phrases alone make the idea new and unique and prior art becomes moot... Atleast that's how it seems these days...
  • by _Hellfire_ (170113) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @09:01AM (#12693048) Homepage
    Will this be the real end of innovation in videogames?"

    Yes.

    Wow that was an easy Ask Slashdot!
  • by agraupe (769778) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @09:02AM (#12693061) Journal
    But if there are patents on videogames, would it not stimulate the production of original games? If you couldn't make a game based on a certain set of ideas, wouldn't you be forced to create an original game?

    Note: I don't agree with software or videogame patents, because I think they screw the consumer in the end by providing a crappy product, at likely a high price. But still, that last sentence made no sense.

    • You don't have to actually produce an implementation of the idea in a patent IIRC (obviously, IANAL). You just have to show that you are taking steps towards an implementation, not that you actually produce one. So, if Duke Nukem Forever contained patented software components, it could be argued that they are making an attempt to bring an implementation to market, hence the patents on those ideas would still be valid.
      • Then, basically, you'd be able to patent something now which cannot possibly be produced until the future, then act like you're making steps towards it?

        I'm patenting the 30nm chip production process and in order to try and implement it, I've gotten a bucket of unprocessed silicon.

        Then again; why bother when you can just use submarine patents.
        • Because submarine patents don't exist anymore...
        • Then, basically, you'd be able to patent something now which cannot possibly be produced until the future, then act like you're making steps towards it?
          Yup. this one [newscientist.com] for example - sony patenting a technology that they themselves admit is just IP grabbing: "There were not any experiments done," she says. "This particular patent was a prophetic invention. It was based on an inspiration that this may someday be the direction that technology will take us."

          I would find it funny if it didn't nauseate me.
          • I don't think that patent would stand when taking the "obvious" rule in account; this is so incredibly obvious to most semi-intelligent people on this earth and in particular to anybody dealing with the nervous system or the brain.

            Then again; nobody has yet shown me any patent which is both moraly right AND unenforceable by simple copyright.
    • But if there are patents on videogames, would it not stimulate the production of original games? If you couldn't make a game based on a certain set of ideas, wouldn't you be forced to create an original game?

      As unpopular an opinion as it is now a days, the good creative content is often built on older creative content. For instance, we couldn't have had hl/hl2/cs with out id and doom.

      Interesting mental exercise: Imagine a world where ID DID patent Doom and it's methods.

      Imagine patents on books. Or,
    • by cowscows (103644) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @09:35AM (#12693397) Journal
      The problem is, patenting things like "ideas", and "gameplay" can get a little hazy. Add in the innate human brain's ability to detect similarities and patterns, and you'll be seeing infringement everywhere you look. Everything is built upon something else to some degree. And if they don't get you with a gameplay patent, they'll trip you up with some patented technical detail in your programming.

      What if the guys who made marble madness had patented "Using an electronic input device to control a digital sphere through the visual representation of a three dimensional world"? I'm no patent lawyer, so I don't know how much sense that makes, but it reads about as basic and vague to me as most of the patent summaries I browse do.

      By that measure, things like bowling games or Super Monkey Ball could be threatened. Is there a connection between Super Money Ball and marble madness? Yeah, on a really superficial level. Do the games play at all alike? Nope. Were the designers inspired by Marble Madness? Maybe. Did they ruthlessly steal expensively developed ideas from the Marble Madness developers? No.

      Even Katamari Damacy could be argued to fall under a patent like that. And that's generally considered one of the most fun, original games of the past year.

      I'm going to agree that any kind of software patents are going to be very harmful to the industry as a whole. And just shifting the current patent system to something like video games is going to pretty much be death to it.

      The lawyer's argument is basically, getting patents is a way for the current players to make more money and cement their position on top of the biz. You can't seriously make the argument that, in this case, patents will spur on innovation, because there's been leaps and bounds of innovation in the relatively patent free video game universe since its inception.
      • Your post makes sense, but we are talking about software patents and lawyers here. They are based entirely off of Mutually Assured Destruction, and insuring that no small startup will be able to get in the door with the big boys.
    • But if there are patents on videogames, would it not stimulate the production of original games?...

      No. In reality, it will cause a mass amount of confusion for gamers and a stifling of the industry. To quote a bit from the Gamer's Manifesto article that was posted a couple days ago (omitting the link since another comment has this quote, too):

      Patents. Did you know there's a patent held by some microscopic software company on spherical camera controls in realtime 3D, and they're starting to level laws
    • The best way to tackle this is with a metaphor.

      Video games are very similar to movies or books - they are siblings or cousins in the media family.

      What if you could patent certain aspects of stories or movies?

      The works of Shakespeare are, by and large, based on lesser plays, historical fictions or actual histories. He didn't invent most of his subject matter. He built on what he had.

      All creative endeavor builds on existing ideas.

      I am still a bit awestruck that people don't have the imagination to see
  • software patents such as most of /., i do think this is a totally bad idea (and i don't see how it would go through)

    I think this more than anything would really stiffle innovation. the whole gaming industry moves so fast that it wouldn't seem worth it to waste money on patents. you would think they would want to crank out the next product to garner more earnings than sit on one idea for to long.

    but then again, that is logical
    • The problem is that apparently you don't even have to implement something to get it patented. There was an article on slashdot a while back about Sony( I think) getting a patent on using radio waves or something to interface with the brain and create experiences for us sort of Matrix-style. They flat out said that they don't have the technology to do that, and don't expect to for quite some time, but they haven't been convinced that it's impossible.

      Now I think that was more of a publicity stunt then an act
  • Patents (Score:2, Insightful)

    by oskard (715652)
    Patents are provided to people of the United States (and other countries) to hold a 'temporary monopoly' on a product or idea. They are used to encourage developers to create things without their ideas being stolen. This enhances the level of development in the country as a whole, and is good for our economy and society.

    However, video games don't give back the same benefits as say, food, energy and transportation. A fellow programmer once said to me "What if someone had a patent on the First Person Shoo
    • Re:Patents (Score:3, Insightful)

      by CastrTroy (595695)
      It already is dead. Because all anybody produces i First Person Shooters. Patents might actually increase development because developers would actually be forced to think of new ideas.
    • "However, video games don't give back the same benefits as say, food, energy and transportation."

      Of course it does, albeit indirectly.

      Video games provide food to the thousands who're involved in making, selling, and distributing video games.

      Video games provide transportation and power by encouraging people to stay at home and play video games, which reduces the number of people and vehicles on road, which reduces the overall energy consumption of your city as well the number of people copulating in your
  • Disclaimer: Software patents are bad and stupid.

    However...

    I suspect that an increase in patents on game software features might promote innovation in games, since it might be harder to just spit out yet another first-person shooter without getting sued.
    • Yes, but that's not the sort of thing that gets patented. I've done this before, so I know a bit about it:

      A patent application is usually done as a series of claims from most general to most specific. Let's take Doom as an example. The claims might be:

      #1. We invented interactive entertainment.
      #2. ...in a 3D world
      #3. ...with some elements that move and others that are static
      #4. ...where some of the moving elements are controlled by players connected

      [snip]

      #99. ...where one of the guns is a railgun that us
  • I am going to go out and get a patent for plumbers jumping on mushroom people. That would be the best idea ever.
  • Is it just me, or does that patent seem to apply to Project Gotham Racing? What is interesting is that the game was only published by MS, but was developed by Bizzare Creations. And there are similar elements in Fable.
    • Also, this is interesting because Project Gotham was published by MS, but it was developed by Bizarre Creations. Did MS require Bizarre Creations to give up their IP in order to be published to the console? PC game developers have different options when it comes to bypassing the regular brick and mortar distribution system, but console games are contorlled rather exclusively by the manufacturers, and there's a good bit of money to be made in the games for those platforms.
  • "Righteous Patents!" (Score:2, Informative)

    by jarbo (29923)
    Declares Ross Dannenberg, Esq., aided by a swank free and open source [binarybonsai.com] layout.

    ....siiiiiiiigh.

    Signed,
    Human Capacity for Lameness is Apparently Inexhaustible, Esq.

  • Will this be the real end of innovation in videogames?"

    I REALLY hope not

  • The french association of Game Producer (APOM) has already taken position against software patents in an open letter to the former French Minister.

    Here's a slightly improved Google translation for the french impaired :

    Position of the APOM on directive COM(2002)092 relating to the patentability of the "inventions implemented by computer"

    Mister the Prime Minister,

    The APOM is the French association of producers of multi-media works. It gathers 80 percent of the French producers of video games, an indus
  • That just goes to show you when lawyer's get involved, the shit is going to hit the fan, mostly because in the end it's not about their clients, but their own pocketbook that will benefit. See any class action lawsuit where they get the bulk of the money to "distribute" the winnings of the case.

    Incidently, I heard over 95% of congress being laywers.....

    Imagine if the original LineTo algorithm got patented or if id software patented everything they did, we'd still be darkages in terms of graphics.

    "If I h
    • That just goes to show you when lawyer's get involved, the shit is going to hit the fan, mostly because in the end it's not about their clients, but their own pocketbook that will benefit. See any class action lawsuit where they get the bulk of the money to "distribute" the winnings of the case.

      Incidently, I heard over 95% of congress being laywers.....

      Imagine if the original LineTo algorithm got patented or if id software patented everything they did, we'd still be darkages in terms of graphics.

      I
  • by Council (514577) <{rmunroe} {at} {gmail.com}> on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @09:12AM (#12693161) Homepage
    Can you patent plot elements in books?
  • Yes, innovation will suffer because the smaller shareware/freeware/demoware players will be fed up with the whole patent business and go raise goats or something ... while the big players trade patents with one another to make the same three games they've made for the past ten years. The big boys won't even have the little guys to copy ideas from! EA, Sony, and Microsoft are no doubt salivating at the thought of complete idea-monopoly of whatever the next big genre is (MMOFPSRPGRTSSimChess?).

    You are in a m
  • I happen to hold the patent on "The use of electronic computing devices for the purposes of entertainment."

    ...and just as soon as one of these game companies actually makes something that's entertaining, man, I'm all over their ass....

  • With some 2000 unique titles not counting clones and cheap knockoffs, it's hard to imagine there still exist gameplay elements, scoring methods, objectives, etc that haven't been tried. Don't forget that up to 1984 they tried absolutely everything in arcade games. Not to mention all those Atari, Intellevision, NES, etc games. That said, I'm sure there's something out there that hasn't been done before, but we all know the industry has a very hard time finding those nuggets. Not really an area I'd expect som
  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @09:16AM (#12693214) Journal
    Lets face it - Patent holders, as technical intellectual property creators, have been falling behind the protections afforded to their artistic bretheren! Copyright holders now have an entire century to reap the benfits, adn for their offspring to reap the benefits, of their labors. It seems wholely unfair to limit patents to such short terms as 14 years (20 for non-design).

    I believe patents should be perpetual. Once you create it it should be your forever! And you children and your childrens children. We have seen my the slow - nay, slowing pace (based on patents per dollar spent on healthcare)- of patent applications and inventions in the 20th century that patent protection does not provide the needed impetus for our truly creative technical experts to advance the sciences.

    There are numerous cases of inventors who could have changed the world, but insted of licencing their technology, compaies just waited until the patents ran out, and the used those iventions with no compensation to the creative mind whatsoever.

    This must stop. We all must rise up and demand perpetual patents now.

    (aren't you glad there isn't a _really_ organized lobby for patent holders like there is for performance artists?)
  • The gaming industry knows that this will only kill them off. They have had a taste of it in the controler market already and really didn't like it. True frce feedback was pretty much killed off because of this. They also know that patents on games will kill their chances of getting people to play a new genere of games (if and when that happens) as many people do not like the steep learning curves that different generes produce and will simply not purchase a game...
  • by cortana (588495)
    I hope EA doesn't read this. Probably too late already.

    What do you call a hundred dead lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?

    A good start.
    • There was a really sad bus crash in texas. There were fifty lawyers on board and every single one died slow and painful deaths. It was REALLY sad. As the bus was only half full.

  • "When viewing images, tab icons now display thumbnails of the displayed image."

    I bet someone's mom/wife suggested this feature... ;)
  • If we want to avoid "obvious" patents, then we need to educate the patent examiners so they understand the state of the art. Obvious ideas and ones clearly found in other's prior art should not get patents, but it is up to the examiner to decide that. Perhaps someone will create a database of prior art and historical innovations that patent examiners can use to weed out the bad patents.

    If an idea is not in the prior art and a couple of geeks can't quickly imagine/document the idea for the database, then
  • by jonr (1130) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @09:25AM (#12693292) Homepage Journal
    But this "patent everything" is getting out of hand, and guess who will be the one to suffer? The patient applicants. Why? I'll tell you why: Because of all the stupid patents claims, people will lose respect for the patent process. Just wait until some random country (Ch*cough*ina) has the engineering knowledge to duplicate whatever patent they want, do they think they will think twice, especially since they can just shrug off any arguments, by pointing at those stupid patents? I think not.
  • Why should someone be able to patent something in a videogame? This is just a majorly dumb idea, patenting media. Why doesn't someone just patent podcasting and be done with the whole industry??
  • by Beolach (518512) <beolach@@@juno...com> on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @09:26AM (#12693305) Homepage Journal
    "A Gamers' Manifesto [pointlesswasteoftime.com]" that /. mentioned recently [slashdot.org] discussed this. I don't agree with all the things the "Manifesto" said were wrong with games, but on this I do agree.
    Patents. Did you know there's a patent held by some microscopic software company on spherical camera controls in realtime 3D, and they're starting to level lawsuits against EVERYONE? Did you ever wonder what happened to force feedback, controllers that push your hands around so you can feel the action in the game as well as see it (we're talking real force feedback, not controllers that vibrate like pagers)? Somebody has a patent, that's what. Did you know you can't have mini-games during a loading screen because of patent law?
  • by imadork (226897)
    Please patent every video-game related thing in sight, right now, for the next 20 years!

    Maybe then when my seven-month old daughter is old enough for those game-addict genes she got from her dad to kick in, the video games will be so lame that she'll read a book instead.

  • What innovation? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by faloi (738831)
    Will this be the real end of innovation in videogames?

    I didn't realize we still had innovation. I thought we had three or four basic games with improving graphics, different controls and the same generic UI. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy a lot of the games out there nowadays. But I haven't seen something real innovative in a while.
  • by Temkin (112574) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @09:37AM (#12693415)


    The TV and Movie industries are desperate to get the 12 to 24 year old males back in front of their crap. Killing game innovation could be just the ticket.

  • Now lawyers will start to reap most profits from games.

    I felt like retching. What a despicable attitude the authors of the article have.

    Basically they say: true, patents for game developers are useless, evil, and costly, but pay us to get them for you, because your competitor may do so too and you won't be able to defend yourself if you don't have patents of your own.

    I almost felt ill when I read how they encouraged game developers to patent even VERY small changes to existing game concepts. What a

  • by zr-rifle (677585) <zedr@zeRABBITdr.com minus herbivore> on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @09:45AM (#12693491) Homepage
    >Will this be the real end of innovation in videogames?

    Well, for that to happen there should be some innovation to start with. Paradoxically, software patent could actually enforce some goddamn innovation in games, by preventing game developers from ripping each other off continuosly and rehashing the same stuff over and over again.
  • "Will this be the real end of innovation in videogames?"

    The answer is: No, real innovation ended in videogames around the time doom2 hit the scene.
  • Will this be the real end of innovation in videogames?"

    I'm as much against patents as the next person here, but if people can't make new games that resemble existing games, that should surely encourage innovation. Each arcade game used to be radically different from the last in the eighties. Shoot-'em-ups already existed, so people started making games where you were a marble in a maze, or a plumber attacking turtles. These days the majority of games can be pigeonholed neatly into a category such as fir

  • Parasites. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by John Carmack (101025) on Thursday June 02, 2005 @12:07AM (#12701745)
    I'm proud that there is "a relative dearth of patent applications for the video game industry, especially considering how technology-dependent the video game industry is, and given its size in terms of annual sales."

    Before issuing a condemnation, I try hard to think about it from their point of view -- the laws of the land set the rules of the game, and lawyers are deeply confused at why some of us aren't using all the tools that the game gives us.

    Patents are usually discussed in the context of someone "stealing" an idea from the long suffering lone inventor that devoted his life to creating this one brilliant idea, blah blah blah.

    But in the majority of cases in software, patents effect independent invention. Get a dozen sharp programmers together, give them all a hard problem to work on, and a bunch of them will come up with solutions that would probably be patentable, and be similar enough that the first programmer to file the patent could sue the others for patent infringement.

    Why should society reward that? What benefit does it bring? It doesn't help bring more, better, or cheaper products to market. Those all come from competition, not arbitrary monopolies. The programmer that filed the patent didn't work any harder because a patent might be available, solving the problem was his job and he had to do it anyway. Getting a patent is uncorrelated to any positive attributes, and just serves to allow either money or wasted effort to be extorted from generally unsuspecting and innocent people or companies.

    Yes, it is a legal tool that may help you against your competitors, but I'll have no part of it. Its basically mugging someone.

    I could waste hours going on about this. I really need to just write a position paper some day that I can cut and paste when this topic comes up.

    John Carmack

Testing can show the presense of bugs, but not their absence. -- Dijkstra

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