3D Virtual Worlds Patented! Lawsuits Started…

from the oh-come-on... dept

It seems that the ridiculous patent holders are trying to go out with a bang in 2008. Worlds.com, which holds a patent that never should have been issued on virtual worlds has sued NCSoft, makers of a bunch of popular online virtual worlds — including some that were launched before the patent was even filed for in 2000. The Register link above shows a few examples of such virtual worlds, but you can dig back even further. In 1996 I was using OnLive! Traveler which did all of the things described in the patent described, as can be seen in the video below:

Not surprisingly, the lawsuit is actually being brought by General Patent Corp (GPC), one of a growing number of IP licensing firms who prey on companies (that actually innovate) by trying to enforce incredibly broad and highly questionable patents. Not surprisingly, GPC’s execs have been active in protesting any sort of patent reform, claiming it would “mar innovation.” I would suggest that patent reform is a hell of a lot less likely to mar innovation than suing innovative companies with overly broad patents that were applied for well after the technology in question was in common use.

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Companies: general patent corporation, worlds.com

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Comments on “3D Virtual Worlds Patented! Lawsuits Started…”

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38 Comments
Overcast says:

Looks like they’re trying to lay a foundation to go after World of Warcraft.

Maybe – too bad for them the First Warcraft game came out years before 2000.

So did Everquest.

So did Doom, Quake, Baldur’s Gate – the list could go on for pages and pages – literally.

Nope, sorry – try again. Virtual Worlds were around before NCSoft was even a company. And yes, all of those games could be played ‘online’. Been there, done that – even before it was ‘cool’. Warcraft 1 and Doom were IPX games, but could be ran over Kali on the ‘net.

Let us not forget Diablo either – really, in many ways the first true ‘virtual world’.

Blizzard was already doing this before you were even in business Mr. Kim.

“NCsoft was originally founded in March 1997 by T.J. Kim, a business software developer and author of the Korean word processor Hangul.”

“Diablo is a dark fantasy-themed action role-playing game developed by Blizzard North and released by Blizzard Entertainment on January 2, 1997.”

“Warcraft: Orcs & Humans is a real-time strategy game, developed and published by Blizzard Entertainment in 1994”

If one was around in those days, they may recall various MUDS and other BBS games like Legend of the Red Dragon, which were also ‘online virtual worlds’ – just not with all the pretty graphics.

Yuniverse says:

Re: Re:

Your comment, while it may be true, seems to pit Mr. Kim (NCSoft)on the same side as the Worlds.com and GPC.

It is GPC and worlds.com who are sueing NCSoft for violating their patent(?).

Anyways, i just detest these bogus patents and companies who tries to glean off of legit companies who innovate.

Can’t we do something about the crappy patent laws?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Mike...are you helping?

Of course it must be noted that while the filing date is 11/2006, the relevant date for 102(b) purposes is prior to 11/2005, not to mention that it is the claims that define what has been invented and as to which the patent applies.

I am always intrigued by the technological expertise exhibited by many of the persons who frequent this site. If only I have the ability as they apparently do of being omnipotent and being able to immediately discern what is a “good” patent and what is a “bad” patent.

One should never let relevant facts get in the way of making up his/her mind. Otherwise they might actually have to think.

Lonnie E. Holder says:

Re: Re: Mike...are you helping?

AC:

Why would anyone let something as minor as reading the claims get in the way of a blog post?

Regardless, I am a “put your money where your mouth is” kind of guy. If there is evidence that a patent should never have been issued because of prior art, then let’s get the prior art in public view so that is can be properly evaluated. The court case will go away like a bad dream, if the prior art existed before the filing date and if the prior art is relevant to the claims.

Jason says:

Re: Re: Mike...are you helping?

Actually Coward, I believe you meant to say “technical” expertise when you made your blanket insult toward the readers of this blog. “Technological” expertise refers to tech (you know, computers and junk); technical expertise refers to a highly specific and usually complex topic that requires much study to master, such as patent law.

You sound like a twit.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Mike...are you helping?

Technological is often used interchangeably with technical since both are generally recognized as being adjectives. I happen to use technological when talking about scientific and engineering issues. Technical many times subsumes a much larger group of issues.

Blanket insult is inaccurate in that my statement was qualified by the modifier “many”, and based upon many comments in threads pertaining to patented subject matter involving arts such as electronics/computers/pharma/etc. it seems apparent that many who are making disparaging comments do not have backgrounds in science/engineering and the like.

Just a guess, but your comment suggests you are not one whose profession is in either science or engineering. If it was, I believe you would likely comment in a much different manner. These are not easy disciplines to master, and the many naunces associated with what is and what is not relevant prior art would be readily apparent.

One thing to keep in mind. You will never read any comment I make that says “this is a perfectly valid patent”, nor will you ever hear read any comment to the contrary. Why? Because these issues depend upon relevant facts, virtually all of which are not contained in the articles and their links. The most that can ever honestly be said is “I don’t know at this point in time. I need more information.”

Paul Stout (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Mike...are you helping?

Quote:
Blanket insult is inaccurate in that my statement was qualified by the modifier “many”, and based upon many comments in threads pertaining to patented subject matter involving arts such as electronics/computers/pharma/etc. it seems apparent that many who are making disparaging comments do not have backgrounds in science/engineering and the like.

——

This is an argument I’ve heard and seen used many times by those who want to disparage those disagreeing with their “lofty” knowledge of whatever subject was being discussed.

It is, of course, a specious argument. It’s used when the author wishes to “talk down” to his audience, basically saying, see, “I’m smarter than you, so you should do as I say”.

Bluntly put, “a background in science/engineering and the like” is not necessary requirement to write or speak intelligently on the subject. It helps, of course, but all that is really required is a modicum of intelligence, some common sense, and the habit of keeping abreast of events in those fields. Experience acquired over ones life time also comes into play.

Nice try AC, but it doesn’t wash…

And, just so you know I’m not one of those “Many” you refer to, my background is specifically in Electronics Engineering and Computer Science, and well over 40 years of experience in those and related fields.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Mike...are you helping?

And, just so you know I’m not one of those “Many” you refer to, my background is specifically in Electronics Engineering and Computer Science, and well over 40 years of experience in those and related fields.

In which case it is all the more surprising you are speaking on the behalf of the “many” who are quick to express opinions about technological arts in which they have no substantive/relevant experience. It is one thing to express an opinion about what should or should not be embraced within the patent law (e.g., software and business methods), which is an opinion regarding public policy. It is, however, quite another matter when one without any knowledge of specific engineering fields expounds on a matter that does require such knowledge.

Lucretious (profile) says:

I am embarrassed to say I actually PAID cash money to Worlds.com back when I got my first PC in ’98 for their shitty chat software thinking it was going to be this amazing interactive experience. They were riding high on internet startup fever investments and were promising fortunes to record companies for branded band “worlds” (they got aerosmith and bowie to sign on somehow) which would create captive audiences for their products. Of course it was a joke. The software was buggy garbage and soon they fell apart like many other startups. I’m amazed they still keep the site going (which, up until a few months ago hadn’t been updated in 8 years).

ben says:

OK guys, here’s the skinny. I’ve been talking with Worlds.com CEO Thomas Kindred, and he turned me on to the fact that the 2000 patent is a continuation of a 1995 patent that originally (and broadly) outlines the concept of a virtual world where avatars can chat, yet not interact with each other or their environment. So guess what, they WILL win judgement pertaining to in-game chat systems in a virtual world, but if they try to go for the gold (entire virtual worlds), it is my opinion that since these games are significantly different from simple “chats”, they will lose the farm.

Mogura says:

Actually...

The patent they’re using to go after NCSoft is number 7,181,690. This patent specifically restrains the number of avatars visible to a particular user based on communications first restricted by the server, then further restricted by the client. These restrictions are based on Point of View as well as distance parameters.

The thing is, this is blatantly obvious to any serious developer for MMORPGs or any other scalar 3D environment. What, would a good developer focus primarily on the avatars that are furthest away? Maybe developers would prefer a giant megaserver render every possible viewpoint into raw video format and stream it to every user? No, the solution provided in this patent falls under the “blatantly obvious” category; perhaps not to a layman, but to anybody with any computer science and 3D programming background whatsoever.

Further, their patent doesn’t name any techniques for actually restricting this communication. It lists no algortihms whatsoever. There is no engine depicted. Instead, it lays claim to any and all possible methodologies for restricting this communication (and thereby conserving not only bandwidth, but CPU and GPU loads as well.

Sorry, this is a bad patent. Mike is patently correct, if you’ll please excuse the pun.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Actually...

It is useful to bear in mind that the test for determining the patentability of this invention is whether or not it, at the time it was made, would have been obvious to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which the invention relates. The relevant timeframe is determined by the patent’s earliest filing date, which in this instance is November 1996.

Maybe it was obvious in 1996. Maybe it was not. This is for a court to decide based upon relevant evidence provided to it by the parties.

riggs (profile) says:

Plenty of prior art and obvious solutions

After taking a read through on this, it really simply combines 2 concepts. A graphical virtual world, and the methods and concepts behind the implementation of interaction and chatting. By interaction, I do not mean with anything that is a MOB (mobile object for the uninitiated), but with other clients connected. To be quite honest, I having trouble finding the innovative part. It relies on methods for chat transmission that were in place LONG LONG before they ever filed for this. Look up IRC (internet relay chat) if you want. Most IRC server protocol did all of this. The only true difference, is the method of determining when to render and at what distances on the client side.

Now as far as prior art or obviousness, it’s difficult to say. To me, being a programmer (since 1990) a lot of this stuff is pretty damn obvious (and to be frank, most of programming IS). If this patent was a continuation of something filed in 1995, the only thing close to prior art that I can think of off the top of my head is Doom. Doom was a singleplayer/multiplayer 3D first-person shooter. Many of the concepts in that patent are present in Doom. Limitations on server and client ends for the number of clients that could connect and/or be rendered. Make no mistake, even though there was no central server “farm” as such, the computer that hosts the game is technically a server.

I think this is a bad patent yes. It is a horrible patent..but the vast majority of software patents ARE. Anyway, I wanna go finish this 5th, happy new year to everyone.

Just my 2 cents

Paul Stout (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Nope, you’re not the only one.

I wrote a “carp” about it on the Q&A thread. It was the wrong thread for it of course, but if you read my two posts about it you’ll see that I put the cart before the horse.

Hopefully Mike will make some necessary changes in future embedded videos that will prevent them from starting automatically.

dinnerbell says:

stop the shilling!!!

what constitutes “ridiculous patent holders” or patents? How would you know? Are you a patent attorney? Have you ever filed or prosecuted a patent application? When you learn something then tell us what you’ve learned. When you’ve had an experience then tell us what you’ve experienced. Short of that, spare us the web payola.

Perry Mason (profile) says:

“Inside of here, we are an anonymous being, and can conduct ourselves as such…” (From the video) This goes a very long ways towards explaining Mike’s and several other folks’s behavior here. Of course Mike has my e-mail address, so he can yell at me personally, but perhaps it is interesting that some may have lost touch with reality in minor or major ways. Does anyone here think the Wright brothers’ patent should have been dis-allowed? It only claimed the use of hinged ailerons, but I am supposing that some here would maintain that wing warping anticipated their patent, so their nasty and greedy patent rights should not have been allowed. Perry

Robert says:

To anyone with even a passing understanding of the History of Games and game systems these patents most obviously should never have been issued in the first place.

The patent filed 1996 for example listed as US patent Scalable virtual world chat client-server system is not just used in mmo games. The method here is used in any online game

From wikipedia

Although MMORPGs, as defined today, have only existed since the early 1990s,[4] all MMORPGs can trace a lineage back to the earliest multi-user games which started appearing in the late 1970s.[4] The first of these was Mazewar, though more would soon be developed for the PLATO system.[13] 1984 saw a Roguelike (semi-graphical) multi-user game, called Islands of Kesmai.[13] The first “truly” graphical multi-user RPG was Neverwinter Nights, which was delivered through America Online in 1991 and was personally championed by AOL President Steve Case.[13] Other early proprietary graphical MMORPGs include three on The Sierra Network: The Shadow of Yserbius in 1992, The Fates of Twinion in 1993, and The Ruins of Cawdor in 1995.

When NSFNET restrictions were lifted in 1995, the Internet was opened up to developers, which allowed for the first really “massive” titles. The first success after this point was Meridian 59, which also featured first-person 3D graphics,[14] although The Realm Online appeared nearly simultaneously and may be credited with bringing the genre to a wider player-base.[13] Ultima Online, released in 1997, may be credited with first popularizing the genre,[13] though Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds was primarily responsible for mainstream attention throughout Asia which was released in 1996, about a year earlier than Ultima Online. It was EverQuest that brought MMORPGs to the mainstream in the West.[13]

So previous to 1996 there where many prior art examples that featured the method described in 6219045.

Whats more all online games mmo or not use the system methods in US patent 7,181,690 System and method for enabling users to interact in a virtual space can not really be seen as a continuation as it deals with other functions namely basic REQUIRED server client architecture.

There is a reason all online games follow the methods they mentioned because the function of hardware and programing require them to.

They invented nothing they just copied the work of others and are attempting to claim it as there own.

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