Patent For Mini-Games Within Loading Screens Expires; Explosion In Better Game Loading Screens Forecasted
from the promote-this dept
Whenever we discuss patents here, it's always useful to restate that the purpose of patent law generally is to promote creativity and innovation such that the public has greater access to novel and useful inventions. That the application of the patent system has been perverted from this original purpose ought to be obvious to everyone, which is why the mantra of patent protectionism by industry, often large industry, has always had the air of religiosity to me. Without patents, no creation would be made. Without patents, small inventors would be pilfered by monied interests. Without patents, we'd be without life-saving medicine. So goes the mantra of those prostrating themselves before restrictionism, repeated over and over again lest their imagined livelihood be taken away by the heathens who point out every counter-example.
Those counter-examples abound, of course, and we typically talk about them in terms of generic medicines that proliferate after a patent expires, or when life-changing technology is suddenly available to a wider public when access to it is relieved from restriction. But lesser examples can be useful to illustrate this as well. One such example is an absolutely asinine patent that had been granted long ago for mini-games being used within software loading screens. That patent recently expired and nobody is even pretending like this won't suddenly mean the proliferation of much less tedious loading screens.
For twenty years, Namco Bandai has held patent US 5718632 A, which has given them ownership of the idea of a loading screen minigame. On November 27 (this Friday), that patent expires. This is a big deal! For two decades, companies that wanted to keep players busy during load times (like Ridge Racer’s amazing Galaga) either had to pay Namco, find ways around it (as EA’s FIFA series has) or...give up and go back to writing a ton of boring tips and lore screens for people to read.Is this really a big deal? No. Also, yes, absolutely. No because having a mini-game inside of another game's loading screen isn't going to save a life or ease the suffering of the masses. But yes, too, because it's an easily understood example of how broken the promise the patent system made all those years ago has become. Already there are plans to do a "game jam" for loading screens, where people will get together and spurt their creativity, now that what was once banned, is finally allowed. If the patent system worked on its original premise, this shouldn't be a thing. The patenting of mini-games in loading screens should have resulted in the use of that concept throughout gaming. It hasn't. If it had, a game jam built around building that very thing wouldn't be necessary.
Loading Screen Jam's "theme" is creating interactive loading screens (or anything that infringes on the abstract) and defiling the patent that held back game design for so many years! Create games/interactive material based on infringing the now-defunct patent in any way possible!It's yet another example of the reality of the patent system working in nearly exact reverse to its stated purpose. Once the patent expires, the public benefits.