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Several Publishers Sued for Infringing 3D Patent 358

Posted by Zonk
from the i-have-patented-the-cube-rubiks-pay-up dept.
jok writes "According to a story on GameDaily, law firm McKool Smith is suing several publishers for infringing their patent on a "Method and Apparatus for Spherical Planning", filed in 1988. Among the companies being sued are several big names, such as Square Enix, Electronic Arts, Vivendi Universal, Sega."
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Several Publishers Sued for Infringing 3D Patent

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  • by fembots (753724) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @04:16PM (#10703323) Homepage
    Have lawyers finally realized "why sue (and win) for others if we can do the same thing for ourselves"?

    Now the middlemen are selling direct! You own a patent, you file a lawsuit, and you take all the profits^H^H^H^H^H^H^H compensation.

    The article has mentioned enough "common sense" and "ridiculous" so I guess we have get the point.

    What's interesting is why/how did a law firm get this patent? Did it 'invent' 3D on monitor, or did it purchased the patent from a third party? The patent's inventor is "Waller, William G. (Portland, OR)" but McKool Smith is claiming these 12 companies infringed on their (not their client's) patent.

    Either way, it's going to get ugly because this is a law firm, it probably has all the resources and knowledge to do well in court, and we all know owner-operators usually work harder.
  • Snowballing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by metlin (258108) * on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @04:17PM (#10703334) Journal
    A few more such patents, and this will end up snowballing companies into realizing how futile their patents are.

    Slowly, companies are beginning to realize that although they could make money suing people, they could also get sued by equally greedy asshats.

    It's only a matter of time. You can only be so stupid.
  • by eln (21727) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @04:17PM (#10703339) Homepage
    This is blatant patent squatting, and it's completely asinine that this sort of thing is legal. The entire purpose is to make money without actually doing anything, and the end result is that it stifles innovation. The patent system in this country needs a major overhaul.
  • by metlin (258108) * on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @04:19PM (#10703384) Journal
    Not necessarily.

    The problem is that some ideas are not quite scaleable, and the technology nor adoption may exist at the time of filing the patent.

    Hence the longer duration given for adoption of a patented technology.

    It's a very valid and nice reason, unfortunately lawyer motherfuckers like these abuse the system.
  • by Ironsides (739422) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @04:23PM (#10703448) Homepage Journal
    Seeing as how one computer generation elapses about every 18 to 24 months, how about 4 or 4.5 years for an experation? And one that also requires you to have a working implementation at time of filing? That way you get people that actually develope something instead of patenting where the market is going.
  • by Underholdning (758194) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @04:25PM (#10703480) Homepage Journal
    "The patent is ridiculously broad. It's purely McKool Smith trying to make money"
    Actually, I don't want to waste my breath calling McKool Smith names. The big perpetrator here is the patent system and the patent offices who allows these general patents.
  • by erick99 (743982) <homerun@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @04:26PM (#10703486)
    Here [mckoolsmith.com] is an article that discusses how Kool, Smith uses data mining techniques to find patent violations. This is apparently the focus of their practice and the article mentions some of their clients.

    To give you an idea of where they are coming from, and it's purely money, here is the title of another article featuring McKool, Smith: Patent field yields high-tech gold"

    I think that tells us that we will see more and more of this.

  • by Andr0s (824479) <dunkelzahn@rocketmail.com> on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @04:32PM (#10703569)
    This is ridiculous.

    I find the fact they're trying to claim the feasibility of patenting a, for computer graphics, very basic concept, nearly as amusing as the fact that they were allowed to patent it in the first place.

    Having checked US Patent Database [uspto.gov] for the description of the said patent, I think I'll go ahead and patent... oh... 'Method of creating secondary colors by combining the three primary colors' ? The matter adressed by this patent is, IMVHO, not unique intelectual property - it describes a potential approach to a certain problem on an abstract plane, without describing practical solutions?

    Disclaimer: I lack sufficient knowledge of legalese, so I might have missread and missinterpreted the patent description. However, my modesty prevents me from admitting I might be wrong.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @04:36PM (#10703620)
    And one that also requires you to have a working implementation at time of filing?

    The problem with this is that it'd discourage individuals from sharing their innovative ideas. Most individuals cannot compete on a monitary scale with the R&D funds available to large corporations. Yet individuals have just as innovative ideas as members of large corporations. These innovative ideas should not be stifled due to lack of funds.
  • Prior art (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CokoBWare (584686) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @04:38PM (#10703641)
    Atari ST, Amiga, and even C64 had some games that all had 3-D rendered environments... before 1989... All someone needs to do is dig up these games (I can't remember their names) and show the prior art. I think these lawyers will eventually lose their stupid patent infringement bullshit crap and they'll get beat up on by some other large nasty lawyers who are good at beating up stupid lawyers.
  • by Ironsides (739422) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @04:47PM (#10703765) Homepage Journal
    These innovative ideas should not be stifled due to lack of funds.

    The patent system wasn't created to patent objects that never get created. It was made so that people who come up with an idea can create it and sell it with monopoly ownership on that idea for a limited ammount of time. It would be like Eli Whitney filing a patent for a mechanical methode of seperating coton seads from coton without inventing the coton gin.

    Being able to patent an idea without having to have a working implementation stifles work because otherwise people who have the same idea and actually put the work in to develope a working implementation would have to pay money to those that just see where the market is going. Like the company that is saying that anyone who does streaming media owes them money. They saw where the market was going and patented the idea. They didn't make any form of product while other people did. Neither did they try to sell their concept to others. They are just trying to rake in money from liscensing for it.

    Patents were made so that the ideas and knowlege behind something eventually reach the public domain. By not developing the knowlege and only patenting the idea, you are not doing this. You are stifling the system. Hence why there should be a working implementation.
  • Re:uspto (Score:3, Insightful)

    by thrillseeker (518224) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @04:54PM (#10703849)
    This is very basic and covers roughly anything displaying interactive 3d on a 2d screen...

    Makes you wonder why they aren't suing any CAD hardware or software vendors.

    or Euclid...
  • by jbs0902 (566885) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @04:55PM (#10703856)
    I agree with the 5 year duration.

    However, the USPTO pedency for softwrae cases is about 4-5 years. So, 99% of your patent time will be wasted in the PTO fighting for your patent.

    Changing software patents to 5 years after issue, just leads to submarine patents.

    In either case, you have the difficulty of defining what is a software patent and what isn't. How much hardware can be in a software claim before it isn't software anymore?
    Because if we have a "one drop" rule, I am always adding some peice of HW to the claim, which will at least allow me to litigate the issue of SW claim.

    So, just shortening the time period doesn't solve the problem.
  • McKool Smith (Score:3, Insightful)

    by j0nb0y (107699) <jonboy300@y[ ]o.com ['aho' in gap]> on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @04:55PM (#10703865) Homepage
    I for one am glad that McKool Smith is aggressively pursuing those that would rip off McKool Smith's innovative technologies just to make a buck. Without this patent, McKool Smith would have never been able to develop innovative games such as... what? There are no games developed by McKool Smith? Surely with such an innovative technology McKool Smith would have been able to make *great* games. Alas, there are none, because McKool Smith is just a lawyer, not a game developer. This is good for McKool Smith, however, for a number of reasons. The first is that lawyers are the most powerful lobby in Congress. It's practically impossible to pass legislation that would cut down on dear McKool's profits. It's partially because of this that Litigation is the fastest growing industry in the United States. An industry with no product. An industry that lives by leeching from other industries. An industry whose growth, if left unchecked, will cripple our economy. An industry whose growth will remain unchecked, because of a virtual stranglehold on the political process in this country.
  • Re:From the patent (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LSD-OBS (183415) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @05:06PM (#10704039)
    My brain got sore from reading that after the first few sentences, but in effect what they're saying is they've patented the multiplying of two 4x4 matrices, or the multiplying of a 3 or 4 component vector by a 3x4 or 4x4 component matrix -- which gives you your object space -> world space, or world space -> camera space transform (or the concatenation thereof).

    Hello, this has been around since the fucking dawn of Cartesian math!
  • Re:Snowballing (Score:3, Insightful)

    by xigxag (167441) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @05:08PM (#10704072)
    A few more such patents, and this will end up snowballing companies into realizing how futile their patents are.

    Unfortunately, I disagree. The large companies just consider this as a business expense. Eventually they will either settle for an undisclosed sum, license for the agreed terms or litigate the matter into oblivion. Of course, nobody wants to pay unnecessary expenses, but overall, they LIKE this sort of behavior. Why? Because it keeps smaller companies from even coming to the table. It enforces a technological cartel and that means greater profits.

    Even so, it would be interesting to speculate on, if what you say was true, which large company would break ranks first and start to lobby for the abolition of software patents.
  • by WebCowboy (196209) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @05:12PM (#10704142)
    My first thought was "why the hell would a LAW FIRM file patent relating to digital image processing"? My second thought was "why would they wait over 16 YEARS to defend their patent"?

    Not only is the patent itself flimsy at best, the way it is being used is obviously exploitation. Have we all lost sight of why patents were established in the first place? I don't recall the intention was to STIFLE innovation and provide an avenue to generate a sudden, large revenue stream for the patent holder.

    Was not the original intent of the patent system to provide incentive for inventors to develop and produce their invention? Wasn't the idea to provide a temporary period of protection to the inventor to establish himself in the market for his invention without getting ripped off by an unscrupulous competitor?

    I think that if I am right then the patent system should be overhauled and be more restrictive--especially since it was built around the invention of physical devices. Not just in what is patented, but how patents are granted.

    If there already isn't such a provision in place, the patent applicant should be required to demonstrate his intent to USE the information in his patent. Before a patent is granted, I think there must be an "invention sponsor"--either an organisation set up by the inventor himself or an initial licensee--that submits a business plan or similar evidence that the invention will be used and marketed. The patent then could be provisionally granted for a short term (5 years maybe?) and at the end of this term, if there is no progress then the patent is expired and cannot be renewed (though an inventor could start the filing process from scratch).

    I think that even if this sounds harsh, lawyers and unscrupulous businessmen have demonstrated they cannot be trusted with an overly permissive patent system. It is an obvious perversion of the system when the patent holder is obviously not in a business related to the patent and has gone for years with no licensee or partner to apply the invention. If patent holders want a high-level of protection for their ideas, I don't think it is too much to ask for them to provide a high-level of detail as to their intent in applying the patent.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @05:20PM (#10704253)
    There are tons of EE's at law firms (how do you think EE patents get written? You have to have a science degree to take the patent bar). And yes, some of us read /.. And no, we don't "know" IP is evil. It's not evil, per se. Just some uses of it are. Are knives "evil?" Are hollow point bullets "evil?" No. They, like IP, are tools. They may be bad or good depending on the wielder. Just because _you_ disagree that IP benefits society does not mean that it doesn't.
  • by zurab (188064) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @06:10PM (#10704832)
    There is no reason why software, business model, design, etc. patents cannot be granted for a shorter period of time than other patents that may take longer time to turn into a product. How the funding is found or what profit is made does not depend only on the length of the patent period; it also depends on the quality of an invention, its industry, state of the economy, management, market demand, the intent of the patent holder, etc, etc, etc. So, you cannot take some average mean for patenting and producing a spacecraft engine and apply that period of time to a patent storing ID cookies on a client for "one-click" shopping.

    On an unrelated note, if a patent applicant does not intend to invest their time and/or money, or seek investors to create and sell or otherwise benefit from the invention, then their patent should be revoked within a reasonable time (maybe 6 months to 1 year for software, longer for some other industries). It doesn't make sense to have purely law firms sitting on 15-19 year old half-vague patents without any intent to accomplish anything, and at the end of the patent period start suing legitimate businesses that actually create products and drive the economy forward.

    IMO, these types of changes are needed for the patent system to "promote science and useful arts(?)" and not just act as a market competition and innovation deterrent, a effective cartel-type defensive mechanism, and a convenient revenue source for "IP" lawyers.
  • by Persnickity (47761) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @06:11PM (#10704844)
    So then my by math, it expires on March 29, 2005. 17 years after the filing date... That explains why this is happening now. It's a last ditch effort to milk some money.
  • by glorf (94990) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @06:18PM (#10704926)
    Suppose I come up with some new widget design. I have CAD drawings for my widget and have run it through simulations and all sorts of other stuff, but I don't happen to have the fabrication equipment to actually produce my widget. Under your system, the first machinist I take my design to would get the patent because he is the one who "created" it. If you don't allow patents on things not yet created, then you are limiting patents to those with the capital to buy the machinery.
  • Re:Snowballing (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mrchaotica (681592) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @07:07PM (#10705417)
    Except that what's actually happening is even worse: Law firms are realizing they can sue with impunity since they don't actually use any patents. So instead of the real industries figuring out that they're hurting themselves and stopping, everybody loses but the lawyers.
  • by dgatwood (11270) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @08:43PM (#10706232) Journal
    No, the problem is easy to fix. Upon a case being dismissed by a judge as frivolous (and with some appropriate legal definitions added to define the term explicitly), the defending attorney should be allowed, if he/she decides the behavior of the prosecution's attorney failed to meet reasonable standards of ethics, to file a motion to disbar. From there, the motion to disbar should mostly be handled as any other court case.

    The big difference, though, is that unlike a traditional court case, the lawyer should be presumed guilty by reason of the judge's dismissal with prejudice, and thus the lawyer should be required to prove to a jury of his/her peers (and by this, I mean other trial lawyers) that he/she legitimately felt that there were reasonable grounds to bring the case.

    The first time a lawyer is found to have filed a frivolous suit should result in a two year suspension and a ten year probation, during which time a second offence should result in permanent revocation of that lawyer's right to practice in the state in question.

    The net result, assuming reasonably strong ethical rules to support such a design, would be to force lawyers to take responsibility for their cases and not attempt to sue someone without legitimate grounds. If there are no sleazy lawyers, there will be very few sleazy lawsuits.

  • by mikefe (98074) <mfedykNO@SPAMmikefedyk.com> on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @10:03PM (#10706628) Homepage
    This will work great for all the cases you hate and now there will be no lawyer that will represent you.

    Great, just great.
  • by leabre (304234) on Wednesday November 03, 2004 @01:35AM (#10707784)
    My first thought was "why the hell would a LAW FIRM file patent relating to digital image processing"? My second thought was "why would they wait over 16 YEARS to defend their patent"?

    Obviously we're talking about an inventor that really wants his idea to succeed and not be stolen by people who actually produce something, rather than sit on the luerals. ...Have we all lost sight of why patents were established in the first place?

    No, this is why they were established, so we can sue the unfortunate chap that was second inline to file for a patent application on the idea, er, invention I mean.

    I don't recall the intention was to STIFLE innovation and provide an avenue to generate a sudden, large revenue stream for the patent holder.

    Of course it is, don't you know, the incentive to patent something is so you can wait until the market is dependant on something that you patented and then sue them when there's no turning back. Its called long-term investment. Why try to bring it to market NOW when everyone else will in 16 years and then you can sue them for "damages"...?

    Was not the original intent of the patent system to provide incentive for inventors to develop and produce their invention? Wasn't the idea to provide a temporary period of protection to the inventor to establish himself in the market for his invention without getting ripped off by an unscrupulous competitor?

    Not really, because that would be too benificial to society and anit-capitalist.

    I think that if I am right then the patent system should be overhauled and be more restrictive

    Good thing it isn't up to you.

    especially since it was built around the invention of physical devices. Not just in what is patented, but how patents are granted.

    Our days have changed, we live in an intellectual society. That way we can lay off all or local workers and re-hire many more in some other country who can do the same work for cheaper and good quality. Good thing we don't have to actually produce something anymore, instead, we just need to "think" of it and voila... instant riches.

    If there already isn't such a provision in place, the patent applicant should be required to demonstrate his intent to USE the information in his patent

    Again, how would such a provision benefits all of our bought-and-paid-for congress-criters? Or the corporations?

    The patent then could be provisionally granted for a short term (5 years maybe?) and at the end of this term, if there is no progress then the patent is expired and cannot be renewed (though an inventor could start the filing process from scratch).

    This isn't in the best interest of a modern, capitalistic society. This would be a step backwards towards "progress" or more closely akin to Americas "developing" years. Why would we want that?

    I'm done now..

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