Uniloc In Such A Rush To Sue 'Minecraft' For Patent Infringement, It Didn't Even Spell The Name Right

from the yes-in-eastern-texas dept

Last time we visited Notch, the creator of Minecraft, and his legal woes, he was being sued for trademark infringement over his company Mojang's latest game, Scrolls. That suit was eventually settled—though unfortunately not over a Quake 3 match as Notch proposed. We probably won't get a similar offer from Notch in this new scenario: he's being sued for patent infringement by the Eastern Texas-based patent troll Uniloc. This is the same Uniloc whose suit against Microsoft led to the CAFC ruling that 25% of all profits for a single patent infringement claim was just a tad excessive.

So why exactly is Mojang getting sued for patent infringement? Well, Uniloc was awarded a patent for a "System and Method for Preventing Unauthorized Access to Electronic Data" back in 2005 (Patent # 6,857,067). The primary claim is that since Mojang has an Android game that uses a network to communicate with an authorization server to perform a license validation check, Mojang has willfully infringed on the patent. The game named in the suit is "Mindcraft"—which of course is not actually the name of Mojang's game. While it is very possible that Mojang may be infringing this patent, Notch stated in a follow up tweet that he is more than willing to "throw piles of money at making sure they don't get a cent". On that same front, this patent could also be invalidated if it is successfully challenged in court.

Perhaps Notch can take some solace in knowing that he is apparently not alone in being sued. According to Reddit, a number of other game companies are being sued for infringing this same patent. This list includes the likes of Gameloft, EA, Square Enix, Halfbrick Studios and a number of other developers. This practice of suing multiple parties for infringing a single patent is a typical sign of a patent troll. It is also a symptom of the huge mess that is software patents.

In a followup blog post, Notch reflected on the idea of software patents and patents in general. He even provided a nice illustration of theft, copyright infringement and patent infringement.
But there is no way in hell you can convince me that it’s beneficial for society to not share ideas. Ideas are free. They improve on old things, make them better, and this results in all of society being better. Sharing ideas is how we improve.

A common argument for patents is that inventors won’t invent unless they can protect their ideas. The problem with this argument is that patents apply even if the infringer came up with the idea independently. If the idea is that easy to think of, why do we need to reward the person who happened to be first?
The post is short but full of some really good insights. Some of them we have touched on before, such as the idea that patents are actually harmful to the software industry. This suit also illustrates another point we have recently written about: how it is impossible to avoid infringing someone's patent. On the bright side, as more such patent infringement suits are filed and more companies and individuals are harmed by the current patent system, perhaps we will see those in Washington take notice and implement some real reforms.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
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    Nigel (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 10:23am

    Prior Art

    Didn't Windows ehhh, even ME do this? It seems to me there is a ton of prior art here.

    Nigel

     

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    Tunnen (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 10:27am

    I'm afraid that Unilock, and countless other East Texas companies, are infringing on my patent to "System and Method for Attempting to Extort Money from Software Companies"

     

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    •  
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      Cory of PC (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 11:07am

      Re:

      I was thinking about someone should get some patents that deal with these trolls, saying something along the lines of "you're infringing my patent for trademark/copyright/patent/etc." Good to see that we have someone with a tool that could combat these trolls.

       

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 7:49pm

      Re:

      I thought Haliburton held that patent?

       

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 10:32am

    I thought obvious things weren't supposed to get patents?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 10:34am

    " On that same front, this patent could also be invalidated if it is successfully challenged in court."

    Thank you Captain Obvious.

    Monkeys could fly out of your butt, too.

     

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      Another AC, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 10:46am

      Re:

      Mean troll is mean.

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 10:46am

      Re:

      What you are saying is that this isn't obvious patent trolling?

      You expect anything in East Texas to be obvious except patent lawsuits?

       

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      That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 10:47am

      Re:

      Why thank you for adding so much to the conversation.
      It is clear you understand the topic very well and are offering your concise view of it.
      Oh you mean online trolls aren't the same as patent trolls?

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 10:48am

      Re:

      This seems confused on a couple of levels. First, it seems like an overreaction so much that it seems to be reaching for anything to complain about.

      Second, "Thank you Captain Obvious," like, "No shit, Sherlock," is meant to point out that the person said something pointedly, blatantly, and objectively so; yet, "Monkeys could fly out of your butt, too," is used to indicate that what was said is so improbably as to be impossible.

      On the other hand, it is possible that you have mixed up your meds to such an extent that you think monkeys flying out of butts is not only likely, but actually constantly occurring and is therefore worthy of derision for pointing out.

      "Of course monkeys are flying out of my butt. Why don't you point out that the sky is magenta while you're at it, Sherlock."

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 10:52am

        Re: Re:

        Actually, after I posted this and got it out of my system, I realized this was actually a good troll.

         

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    Jeff Rowberg (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 10:47am

    "A" problem, not "The" problem

    A common argument for patents is that inventors won’t invent unless they can protect their ideas. The problem with this argument is that patents apply even if the infringer came up with the idea independently.


    That is a problem for sure. But there is an even bigger problem: that argument is empirically false. Inventors will still invent if they can't protect their ideas (and many people actively reject any protection, for many reasons.

     

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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 10:52am

    As I suggested over on BoingBoing in their coverage of this, it would be a real shame if someone figured out how to crowdsource finding prior art to sink the entire portfolio of patents Uniloc controls. Just gut the troll, then use the framework to start working down the list of everyones favorite visitors to East Texas.
    Maybe a running total of patents sunk would embarrass law makers into action to fix the obviously broken system.

     

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    •  
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      E. Zachary Knight (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 10:58am

      Re:

      That would be nice. But even the EFF who has an entire program dedicated to invalidating patents can't do so in an effective and timely fashion. Invalidating a patent requires a lot of time and resources. While crowdsourcing the prior art might help, it is still only a small chunk of the process.

       

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        Ninja (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 11:01am

        Re: Re:

        Anti-patent trolling. That's EFF doing spectacularly right!

         

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        That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 11:46am

        Re: Re:

        The problem could be people being unaware of the EFF project, sometimes you need to put a face on the problem to motivate people.
        Breaking the sections of required work into small pieces people feel they can tackle a bit here, a bit there.

        While it might require a lot of work, breaking it up means many hands make lighter work. So looking at how the process is being done now vs how else it could be done might be in order. It is only when we stop trying that it is impossible.

         

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 1:24pm

      Re:

      brilliant idea!

       

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    PlagueSD (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 10:52am

    Up next...Some company gets sued for infringing on the following patent "System and Method for interacting with digital avatars in an online world".

    If that patent doesn't exist, I'm going to apply for it and own EVERY online game in the world!!!!

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 10:53am

    So wait, are they suing Minniecraft because you could build a Smart Card in game? Since all their patents diagrams have the smart cards drawn in as physical, I don't see how Moparcrafts's DRM even approaches this absurdly obvious patent.

     

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      That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 11:09am

      Re:

      I believe they are targeting how Android validates game licenses or something.
      Step 1 go after the big guys get publicity.
      Step 2 very quickly name a bunch of small devs and try to get settlements to fund the big suit.

       

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    Nathan F (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 11:01am

    Ideas are our countries strength

    What really bothers me about the whole software patent war thicket going on is the double think taking place. Politicians keep harping about how IP is the US's best product right now, yet they have a nigh killing field in the patent office for any new idea. Soon as a device gets to market most often a "patent troll" comes along and says they are violating a patent from 200x and that they are only suing because they "have to protect their business and shareholder value".

    What is it going to take for Washington to see that software patents in particular (and some design patents.. I'm looking at you Apple) are stifling new ideas for making a better product?

     

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      Ninja (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 11:07am

      Re: Ideas are our countries strength

      Once the big players start getting really hurt by the patent mayhem they'll lobby for this change. And then it will happen.

       

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        E. Zachary Knight (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 11:40am

        Re: Re: Ideas are our countries strength

        I am not so sure about that. Microsoft is sued constantly over patent infringement claims. So is Apple. However, both of those companies are also prolific suers. Why would they be willing to advocate for a change that would negate one aspect of their business?

         

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          Nathan F (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 11:48am

          Re: Re: Re: Ideas are our countries strength

          A PROFITABLE aspect of their business at that. Look at the reports about how much M$ gets for each Android device sold..

           

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 9:10pm

      Re: Ideas are our countries strength

      Soon as a device gets to market most often a "patent troll" comes along and says they are violating a patent from 200x

      No, the patent troll will wait until you've made sufficient profits to make suing you worthwhile

       

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    The eejit (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 11:03am

    Hang on...

    Does this patent mean that all DRM is infringing?

    WHY ARE WE NOT CHEERING THIS PATENT?!

     

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      Jeff Rowberg (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 11:13am

      Re:

      Because it wouldn't stop DRM, it would only make it more expensive, a cost increase that would surely be passed on to customers. A patent in the hands of a patent troll is absolutely worthless unless somebody infringes. Therefore, the best business model for a troll is to claim infringement on stuff that is (1) widely used and (2) considered too important not to have by those who use it.

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 11:17am

      Re:

      Now that would be amusing: Make ineffective DRM to cobat "theft", turns out DRM itself is "theft".

      Par for the course with the absurd nature of "IP" law.

       

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    identicon
    Roman, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 11:14am

    Problems

    A few problems - as we know patents are supposed to be for inventions - patenting software makes no sense, since you cannot invent math (which is what software is) you can only discover cool algorithms, but those algorithms already existed in a sense.

    Second, the patent in question is on DRM. Even if we accept patentability of software, you'd have to say that only features should get patented - DRM is not a feature, in fact it's an anti-feature. If you write software that prints a file you want that program do the best damn job at printing it can. If you design a program to tell the user "no, I won't print this file, because I don't like you" you're designing your software to be defective.

     

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      Mason Wheeler (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 11:44am

      Re: Problems

      As a programmer, I take exception to this. Software is not math; math does not have state, but state is an essential characteristic of all software. Software makes extensive use of math-based techniques in various places, but programming itself is much more akin to craftsmanship or engineering than mathematics.

       

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    technomage (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 11:33am

    patent troll's name

    Anyone else snickering at the fact that the troll's name is BUMGARDNER? Especially as he is talking out his ass...

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 11:36am

    The patent industry is vital for the future of American politicians. By imposing an arbitrary tax on any business that would contribute to the economy, high unemployment is maintained, allowing them to pass any arbitrary law by labeling the bill as a "jobs bill", and therefore preserving their power.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 12:53pm

    I always thought that if you came up with a different way to get the same end result, you could patent that without infringing on the other!
    Just compare the codes and the judge will see the game's code is not infringing on the patent!

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 9:28pm

      Re:

      Code is covered by copyright. If you produce different code to achieve the same result that's ok.

      A patent is about achieving a result using a specified method, so you could infringe even if you wrote everything from scratch. This is one of the major problems of software patents; it's far too easy to infringe accidentally.

      If you look at the patent there is no code specified anywhere, and I doubt this troll has actually got any code which implements this method.

       

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    Derp, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 6:41pm

    Wow.

    Uniloc's business is literally just this. Making patents and suing over it. Let's hope governments shut down this company.

     

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    staff, Jul 24th, 2012 @ 6:56am

    another biased article

    “Patent troll”

    Call it what you will...patent hoarder, patent troll, non-practicing entity, shell company, etc. It all means one thing: “we’re using your invention and we’re not going to pay or stop”. This is just dissembling by large infringers and their paid puppets to kill any inventor support system. It is purely about legalizing theft. The fact is, many of the large multinationals who defame inventors in this way themselves make no products in the US or create any American jobs and it is their continued blatant theft which makes it impossible for the true creators to do so.

    Prior to eBay v Mercexchange, small entities had a viable chance at commercializing their inventions. If the defendant was found guilty, an injunction was most always issued. Then the inventor small entity could enjoy the exclusive use of his invention in commercializing it. Unfortunately, injunctions are often no longer available to small entity inventors because of the Supreme Court decision so we have no fair chance to compete with much larger entities who are now free to use our inventions. Essentially, large infringers now have your gun and all the bullets. Worse yet, inability to commercialize means those same small entities will not be hiring new employees to roll out their products and services. And now some of those same parties who killed injunctions for small entities and thus blocked their chance at commercializing now complain that small entity inventors are not commercializing. They created the problem and now they want to blame small entities for it. What dissembling! If you don’t like this state of affairs (your unemployment is running out), tell your Congress member. Then maybe we can get some sense back in the patent system with injunctions fully enforceable on all infringers by all inventors, large and small.

    Those wishing to help fight big business giveaways should contact us as below and join the fight as we are building a network of inventors and other stakeholders to lobby Congress to restore property rights for all patent owners -large and small.

    For the truth about trolls, please see http://truereform.piausa.org/default.html#pt.

     

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    identicon
    patent litigation, Jul 29th, 2012 @ 12:25pm

    limitations

    This question regarding the patent-eligibility of software has come up often enough that some future limitation on software patents seems inevitable. Maybe the solution is to simply allow them a shorter term, rather than eliminating them altogether?

     

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    Jon Burdick, Nov 13th, 2012 @ 10:40am

    subjective realpolitik

    Patent Troll: what infringers call someone who expects to be paid after incurring miscellaneous research expenses, then inventing something new and useful and nonobvious while paying the rent, and then incurring additional fees to pay the patent attorney and the patent office. Examples: Alexander Graham Bell, the Wright Brothers, Guglielmo Marconi, Thomas Edison, and Edward Hebern (inventor of cryptanalytic technology ripped off by the U.S. govt.) to name but a paltry few. Compare "pioneer", "trailblazer".

    Free Rider: what Patent Trolls call infringers who expect others to shoulder all the R&D burdens alone, but then feel free jump in to reap the rewards of the other guy's work in their perky, energetic, what-me-worry?-I'm-not-fatigued-by-any-R&D-struggles state of being. Compare "scavenger".

    Not all patentees are trailblazing pioneers, of course, and not all granted patents ought to have issued. But fights should be about individual patents, and patent examination procedures, not the patent system as a whole, unless you have something better with which to replace it. As it is, individual and small-business inventors at least have a roll of the dice to try and stake out a claim as to what value they add to society by inventing new things (and then be compensated fairly therefor, based on arm's-length licensing negotiations); otherwise, the only route is to sign up with some big firm, say, McPatents Research, Inc. and develop work-for-hire on the basis of a flat salary and the possibility of a gold watch after twenty-five years.

    Getting a little sick and tired of reading forum posts some of which seem to be written by couch-potato gamers -- who might totally freak if it seems like a patent holder wants to be paid for developing tech that makes the gamer's favorite game possible (or in some cases, technology not required for playing the game, but "required" in the sense of economic feasibility -- without some DRM, game won't go to market). "Soviet Russia was never annoyed by patent law."

     

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    identicon
    Jon Burdick, Jan 23rd, 2013 @ 7:21am

    trolling

    "In 2007, I received a call from Steve Jobs, the Chief Executive Officer of Apple. In the months before the call, several employees had moved between the two companies. On the call, Mr. Jobs expressed concern about employees being hired away from Apple by Palm. As a solution, Mr. Jobs proposed an arrangement between Palm and Apple by which neither company would hire the other's employees, including high tech employees. Mr. Jobs also suggested that if Palm did not agree to such an arrangement, Palm could face lawsuits alleging infringements of Apple's many patents."


    Steve Jobs. Using patents to attempt to conspire to suppress developer salaries. Now THAT's a patent troll.

    http://news.cnet.com/8301-13579_3-57565314-37/steve-jobs-threatened-palm-with-patents-over-no-po aching-deal-says-court-filing/

     

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    identicon
    Emis, Mar 28th, 2014 @ 5:02pm

    Mindcraft

    Please try you best to control harobrian in iPad mindcraft it destroyed my hard work house that took me 2 years and 5 months. I am sad and mad so please help me out I love love mindcraft.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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