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.

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Companies: facebook, zynga

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Comments on “Social Gaming Patent Troll Goes After Facebook, Zynga For In-Game Purchases”

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29 Comments
Beta (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

“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.

Khory (profile) says:

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.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

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.

indieThing says:

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 $$$

eclecticdave (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Nona says:

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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