Social Gaming Patent Troll Goes After Facebook, Zynga For In-Game Purchases

from the some-build-bridges,-some-live-under-them dept

Another day, another patent troll. Ars Technica reports that a shell company called Gametek LLC is suing a bunch of social gaming giants, including Facebook and Zynga. The patent? Patent #7,076,445: "A system and methods allowing the creation, integration, and transaction of advantages," later clarified (somewhat) as giving the user "access to and purchase offered advantages and interact with interactive advertisements to purchase products and or services." In other words, in-game purchases. The one and only point in the patent's favor is its early registration date:

"It looks like the patent was filed June 20, 2000, and at that time, I'm not sure this isn't a novel idea," Dallas attorney and Law of the Game blog author Mark Methenitis tells Ars Technica. The early filing means the patent "predates Facebook and most all of the social games as we know them," Methenitis notes, though older gaming services like AOL and Yahoo Games may have been using similar techniques before that.

Even if there is no prior art, this just demonstrates the problem with software patents. Software innovation moves fast, and the majority of "novel" inventions are still pretty obvious and inevitable, usually being developed by multiple people at once. More importantly, they don't require any actual implementation, just laughably vague descriptions of a concept like the ones above. That allows companies like this to buy a patent, sit on it, do nothing, and attempt to place a private tax on the actual innovators:

But the lawsuit doesn't seem to comes from a company that actually makes such games. The patent in question was granted in 2006 as the sole protected invention for one Shawn Cartwright. It was then transferred to little-known "revenue transaction software" company Theados Corp. last year, before being reassigned to plaintiff Gametek earlier this month.

The Gametek LLC that filed the lawsuit is based in Newport Beach, Ca., but shares a name with a Florida-based, early-'90s game developer best known for game show adaptations which closed its doors in 1998. The shell company doesn't seem to have any legitimate products in social gaming or any other field, and may have been created specifically to argue this case.

When companies are able to hold back real progress while contributing zilch, it's just more evidence that the patent system is broken.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    ike, Mar 6th, 2012 @ 3:50pm

    Patents for not doing something?

    An in-game purchase is simply a purchase done without leaving a game. How can one patent not doing something?

     

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  2.  
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    Beta (profile), Mar 6th, 2012 @ 3:51pm

    prior art? from the future?

    Does getting mentioned in fiction count as prior art? I read Greg Bear's science-fiction novel Eon in the '80's, and a character mentioned that he was being paid for his services in "advantages" over long-standing opponents in a computer-based conflict he described as something like "lethal chess".

    He was in fact a computer program fighting for his life against similar entities, so our MMOG was his Real Life, but still.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2012 @ 3:56pm

    Whatever you think of software patents, this kind of stuff is beyond absurd. They have really done nothing more than patent selling things. The fact that they were selling things inside a computer game should make no difference when all they are doing is selling stuff.

    The patent system should never have issued patents for things that people have been doing for thousands of years, just because someone did it with a computer.

     

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  4.  
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    Beta (profile), Mar 6th, 2012 @ 4:00pm

    Re:

    To be fair, it's a transaction across the border of a game, using real money to buy something that exists only within the frame of the game. It's somewhat novel (unless you count illegal game-fixing as prior art).

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2012 @ 4:06pm

     

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  6.  
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    PlagueSD (profile), Mar 6th, 2012 @ 4:10pm

    Re: Re:

    So all those free-to-play games that sell in game items (advantages) should fall under this also, not just Facebook and Zynga. I love how the patent trolls are coming out of the woodwork as Facebook is going public.

    I have to aggre with AC's point of view. Apt business model...I'll sue ya.

     

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  7.  
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    James Salsman, Mar 6th, 2012 @ 4:12pm

    prior art from 1980s

    Both Habitat and Federation (MUD1 on Compunet) had in-game ads and purchases in the late 1980s. Habitat's were for user created content, and was entirely by semi-automated barter.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habitat_(video_game)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MUD1

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    James Salsman, Mar 6th, 2012 @ 4:14pm

    Re: prior art from 1980s

    Also, Compuserve and The Source had games with crap you could buy in the 1980s, if Habitat and Federation are too obscure to document. It won't be hard to find gen-Xers who ran up their parents' credit card bills on Compuserve.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2012 @ 4:39pm

    The concept of in-game purchases for advantages (IE: microtransactions) is something that has existed in MMORPGs for decades. It is an old, old idea that dates back to at least the days of Multi-User Dungeons (some of them had microtransaction systems back when getting special items and perks meant having to send checks via snail mail).

    I haven't read any of the comments yet, but I guarantee that at least one un/intentionally misinformed troll will start prattling off about how this guy is an innovator and how these evil companies are siphoning his livelihood. And how no one did microtransactions before ever before Facebook or Zynga.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2012 @ 4:43pm

    "That allows companies like this to buy a patent, sit on it, do nothing, and attempt to place a private tax on the actual innovators."

    One major problem with this. Zygna is not and has never been an innovator. Making almost identical copies of games from other companies is not innovation. I understand what you are trying to say, but this logic does not apply to Zygna. This lawsuit does not hold back progress at all.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2012 @ 4:44pm

    Re: Re:

    No, that's still just "buying something in a world" with the phrase "with a computer" tacked onto it. Limiting the use of the item to only within the frame of the game doesn't change the fact that it was a legal transaction.

     

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  12.  
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    Khory (profile), Mar 6th, 2012 @ 4:55pm

    Re: Re:

    I don't think its all that novel an idea. It seems pretty common sense to me.

    Either way it seems like this is an idea. You can't patent ideas. Did Facebook/Zynga copy some invention or even some code of the plaintiff's that made this possible?

    These types of patents make no sense to me. It talks about methods of doing this without being specific to what that method is. It seems is all you need to get a patent is a few pictures and some super general descriptions of how you wish something would work.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2012 @ 5:08pm

    Re: Re:

    "To be fair, it's a transaction across the border of a game, using real money to buy something that exists only within the frame of the game."

    As in an arcade game showing the message "Insert Coin To Continue" to transact the purchase of extended or additional lives for the player character?

     

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  14.  
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    Sarah Black (profile), Mar 6th, 2012 @ 5:16pm

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't "in-game purchases" already being done in the early 1990's BBS Door games, "Trade Wars" through WWIV, RGBBS...etc
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trade_Wars
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBS_door

     

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  15.  
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    Leigh Beadon (profile), Mar 6th, 2012 @ 5:19pm

    Re:

    I actually think that Zynga are innovators, just of a different kind. Don't get me wrong - I don't love them either. And I don't agree with all of their methods. But I do think that, in many ways, they earned their success.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2012 @ 5:36pm

    Re: Re:

    Uh, so? Have you even been to a casino and purchased chips to play the games, then converted them back to cash? How about an arcade where they use tokens instead of quarters?

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2012 @ 6:15pm

    Can you patent something that has existed for years, under a clearly defined term, but then change the wording of the term while retaining the same exact definition and trying to apply that new term to all uses of the old term?

     

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  18.  
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    TtfnJohn (profile), Mar 6th, 2012 @ 7:11pm

    Re: Re:

    To be unfair while it wasn't software in game purchases are as old or older than Monopoly.

    I also remember text adventure games from the 80s and 90s where in game purchases were part of the game. And they are in lots of graphic based games from complex to simple first person shooters.

    Prior art doesn't just apply to a platform or programming language. Prior art is just that no matter where it first appeared in the software world.

    It's this kind of blatantly ignorant granting of a patent to a software process that has existed almost as long as desktop machines (or longer) that has had me opposing software patents from the very start.

    This is the height of absurdity. Right up there with one click patents and other idiotic nonsense.

     

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  19.  
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    TtfnJohn (profile), Mar 6th, 2012 @ 7:15pm

    Re:

    Seems so. That being the case we can trot off to the patent office tomorrow and get a patent for the wheel. Just think of the money to be made from the lawsuits!

    I'm sure there's a lawyer somewhere who'd take it on!

     

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  20.  
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    Mike42 (profile), Mar 6th, 2012 @ 7:52pm

    Re:

    Yeah. Listen to "When patents attack" on NPR. Someone patented "Thermally refreshing bread" AKA making toast.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2012 @ 8:51pm

    Patents are total BS anymore. How can anybody take them seriously after this one? Playing with your cat with a laser. I guess I'm in lots of trouble.

    http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1 &u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=5443036.PN.&OS=PN/5443036 &RS=PN/5443036

     

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  22.  
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    Amgal, Mar 7th, 2012 @ 12:45am

    Response to: Anonymous Coward on Mar 6th, 2012 @ 8:51pm

    That sounds like some kid just trying to patent the shit out of everything. Doesn't make sense, probably because it was senseless to begin with. Like others have said, patents are just a big joke now, but not everyone wants to admit that.

     

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  23.  
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    indieThing, Mar 7th, 2012 @ 3:14am

    Re: Re:

    Yeah, you could call it 'A method for creating a buffer object between an in-game vehicle and the in-game scenery to facilitate the appearance and behaviour of smooth and realistic motion over the in-game scenery'.

    I'm sure you'd get it past the examiner by spewing enough B.S. about the physics and simulation side, you could then sue every racing game manufacturer on the planet $$$

     

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  24.  
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    eclecticdave (profile), Mar 7th, 2012 @ 3:38am

    Disclosure

    For me, it's not just the prior art and/or obviousness of this kind of patent that should make it invalid. You can often argue about those until the cows come home - whether a particular thing counts as prior art or whether people would really have considered this as obvious at the time, can be rather subjective.

    For me it's the lack of any real disclosure that annoys me. Patents are supposed to provide sufficient information that a person skilled in the art can reproduce it with relative ease. Generally this means it should be sufficiently detailed that the recipient does not need to add any significant creativity or ingenuity of his own.

    So for example, if I were attempting to patent the Carburetor, I should need to provide blueprints and specifications such that anyone with a workshop and sufficient skill would be able to build one. It would be no good me putting "a device that mixes gasoline and air" and more or less leaving it at that! Even a lengthy explanation of what it does and the principles on which it operates would still be considered insufficient disclosure in most fields.

    The equivalent disclosure for software patents should be to provide full source code such that any reasonably skilled developer can reproduce the invention without writing the thing from scratch himself.

     

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  25.  
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    Lirodon, Mar 7th, 2012 @ 5:32am

    You know what?

    Part of me thinks, for a company like Zynga, it'd probably be easier to outright acquire GameTek altogether instead of trying to pay for a license or going through a lawsuit. Aren't they made of other people's money?

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 7th, 2012 @ 7:42am

    Re: Patents for not doing something?

    I have a patent idea: Everything. I should be able to use this one to troll every site out there. It's no more vague than some of the ones that have been granted.

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 7th, 2012 @ 7:48am

    Buying something on a website is no different than buying something in a game. Apples could be sued for this patent as well, since my video purchases in iTunes don't work outside of the software environment they have set up (because of DRM). Apple licenses one-click from Amazon. So wouldn't Amazon be prior art for this one?

    It's kind of ironic that DRM could expose Apple to patent trolls.

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    Nona, Mar 24th, 2012 @ 4:12pm

    Please do not take offense. But you have to know the game in order to comment on it. For example, there is no such thing as a software patent. Patents are granted for four classes of invention processes, machines, articles and compositions of matter. There is not a class for "software". Second, "invention" is not found in the Specification, Drawings, Abstract and certainly not a blogger's synopsis. It is the claims. One must read the claims. If you can find what was done in the old MMPORGs in claim 15, for example, then you have a case. Otherwise... much of the commentary around patents is just the blind leading the blind.

     

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