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The Reality of Patent Expirations for the NES 259

Posted by Zonk
from the not-getting-any-younger dept.
Tashimojo writes "Gamasutra's running a feature entitled 'Nintendo Entertainment System - Expired Patents Do Not Mean Expired Protection', an interesting read. From the article: 'This article originated when the Gamasutra editors noticed a number of online sources such as Wikipedia stating that it was now completely legal to make NES 'clone' consoles, because all of Nintendo's patents regarding the NES had expired. How true was this statement? We asked game IP lawyer S. Gregory Boyd the question: Are the NES patents expired? If so, is a company free to build and sell new NES-like systems?'"
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The Reality of Patent Expirations for the NES

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  • ROMs? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by PopeOptimusPrime (875888) on Friday November 11, 2005 @06:14PM (#14012018)
    Moreover, is it now FINALLY legal for me to download and use nintendo ROMs?
  • by b0r1s (170449) on Friday November 11, 2005 @06:15PM (#14012025) Homepage
    How many NES consoles did they sell? How much money could Nintendo possibly lose from clone NES systems?

    If anything, the title familiarity may help them in selling similar titles/lines for Gamecube and Revolution.
  • Hmm... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PenisLands (930247) on Friday November 11, 2005 @06:18PM (#14012054) Homepage Journal
    I've seen so many NES knock off "100 in one" game things selling on ebay and in other small video game shops for a long time now. If it is indeed legal for people to make and sell NES like machines now, I wonder what would happen with those. Would they start selling in well known shops?
  • by LiNKz (257629) * on Friday November 11, 2005 @06:22PM (#14012089) Homepage Journal
    Walk into about any mall these days and you will find these really cheap knock-off's of a Play Station design that can play thousands of games. I played Mario Brothers on one. I thought it was just a small operating down here until I went up north and found the same thing, and a bit more funny (side note), they're Colombian. All of them! :o
  • by Rude Turnip (49495) <valuation@nOSpAm.gmail.com> on Friday November 11, 2005 @06:31PM (#14012162)
    I've seen the Polystation and similar systems pictured in TFA at one of the souvenir shops at Penn Station in New York, as well as in some of the electronics shops on 8th avenue. For about $50 bucks you get about 100 games built in, so it's a good deal. A friend of mine has an NES clone built into a clone of an N64 controller that outputs to the TV...it also includes an extra controller and light gun that plugs into the main controller, along with 100 or so games. For $35, I bought a Yobo NES clone at the local flea market. You can get the Japanese version from Lik-Sang for USD60. No built-in games, but I don't mind staying partially honest and picking up some old carts for $3-$5 a pop.

    Of course, the best part about the NES knock-offs is the hilarious the packaging. "Best Quality" "Super Graphics" "Super 8-Bit Technology"...usually spelled wrong, and abound the box. One particular box had Spider-Man 2 promotional movie graphics and the device was labelled as Spider Game. Infringing upon Nintendo and Marvel IP...now that's some balls!
  • Re:Hmm... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lukewarmfusion (726141) on Friday November 11, 2005 @06:34PM (#14012176) Homepage Journal
    Story time.

    I know a guy with a shop that sells upright and cocktail-style arcade games. He sells on eBay and some of his products include 39-in-1 boards with classic games combined into one board - he slaps the board into a cabinet and they sell like hotcakes. (Even better is his customized PC-in-a-cabinet-and-load-whatever-you-want-box.) A while back, his eBay account was suspended because eBay was sent a cease and desist letter from Namco. Apparently they do not approve of these multi-game boards and fight them tooth and nail. He was buying these boards from an overseas supplier - and as it turns out, Namco can't do anything to the company making them so they go after the people buying 'em.

    The copyrights on these games hasn't expired, so even if you could legally make a clone console it wouldn't affect the real problem - illegal ROMs.
  • Console Repair (Score:5, Interesting)

    by l3prador (700532) <wkankla@gmaTOKYOil.com minus city> on Friday November 11, 2005 @06:34PM (#14012177) Homepage
    Out of curiosity, what would be the legal ramifications behind selling repairs of old consoles? And how far can you go and consider it still a repair and not a new console? If the controller ports are busted and you replace them with your own components? The logic board, the power supply? All of the electronics, but keeping the external frame? Why can't you replace the external frame with your own design? Wouldn't selling refurbished things like this be legal? I mean, how much can you replace and still consider it a repair or a refurbishing? Everything that is broken, right? And what's wrong with adding your own modifications, such as wireless controllers and updated video out? How is that different than what Messiah is doing [playmessiah.com], other than they probably didn't start out with one dead NES for their new ones?
  • by IoN_PuLse (788965) on Friday November 11, 2005 @06:41PM (#14012212) Homepage
    Last year around this time I saw one in a mall near my place also, and they were demoing obvious Nintendo games on it. Heck, the Nintendo logo was still present in the games. A week after I saw on Slashdot [slashdot.org] an article about Nintendo cracking down on these businesses commiting copyright infringement. I e-mailed Nintendo about the one in the mall near my place, I never received a reply but they were gone soon after. This year I haven't seen any.
  • by GiSqOd (793295) on Friday November 11, 2005 @06:42PM (#14012218)
    Good point about this helping to market current versions of Zelda, Mario, etc.

    I also think there's a big opportunity for Nintendo to pre-emptively turn this into a cash cow. If they release their OWN "clone" system, they could clean up. They could put together a $35 bundle that had 2 controllers, a small hard drive that had all original Nintendo games, and beat the clone makers at their own game. Even if it was just all games Nintendo made, what gamer geek wouldn't see that as an attractive investment? (In fact, since so many companies that made Nintendo games are now out of business, you could probably put a fair amount of abandonware on there, too.)

    I know I'd rather buy a cheap Nintendo box from, well... Nintendo than one marked "Best Quality Nintendo Wish Set" at the local flea market.

    This will never happen, of course. They're more likely to re-introduce the original Nintendo at $99 and re-release all the games for $39.99, like 1988 all over again. Too bad.
  • by Cpt_Kirks (37296) on Friday November 11, 2005 @06:44PM (#14012227)
    For about $50 bucks you get about 100 games built in, so it's a good deal. A friend of mine has an NES clone built into a clone of an N64 controller that outputs to the TV...it also includes an extra controller and light gun that plugs into the main controller, along with 100 or so games.

    Your friend needs to chop it up and build one of these [ladyada.net].

  • Pffft.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Spy der Mann (805235) <spydermann,slashdot&gmail,com> on Friday November 11, 2005 @06:50PM (#14012250) Homepage Journal
    while the NES patents are about to expire in 2013, we already got emulators for the GBA, and in-the-works for the DS.

    Just a thought.
  • by Carnildo (712617) on Friday November 11, 2005 @07:42PM (#14012606) Homepage Journal
    Wait a minute - they're saying that a patent received in 1995 could apply to a product that was created in 1985. It took a long time for that patent to be processed by the USPTO.

    Development on the NES didn't stop in 1985. Many of the controllers, such as the light gun, were developed afterwards, and have their own patents. Also, mapper chips that gave cartriges features such as additional ROM, battery-backed storage, more sound channels, and so on, were being developed for years afterwards.
  • by robgue (829997) on Friday November 11, 2005 @08:00PM (#14012711)
    i mean they sell old nintendo games on the gameboy, have a nes controller gameboy, they love to rehash old products in new wrapping. why not just sell old school nes clones. find a way to sell the old games through some medium. they should have done this with the 2oth anniverary recently. a limited run in their factories. god knows everyone would buy one for a decent price.
  • by networkBoy (774728) on Friday November 11, 2005 @08:25PM (#14012826) Homepage Journal
    Sounds simple to me. Make a box with a dual hardware interface: CF card and Cart.
    If you have old carts, go at it. If not DL them ala iTunes onto a CF card and play them on your console. 99c a game for old games is cheap enough that people might pay it (or if you're scared of piracy, scramble the DL roms and make the CF socket require scrambled roms). Give a fair cut to nintendo as a licencing fee and they likely will go along with you on the venture. In this case playing nice is good, because even if you are legally "in the right" you don't want a long court case (costs $$$) and an injunction (prevents you from getting $$$).

    -nB
  • Re:Console Repair (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vesik (249671) on Friday November 11, 2005 @08:37PM (#14012883)
    Your initial question reminded me of the "Ship of Theseus" paradox. It's an ancient philosophical question pertaining to identity.

    Check out: http://faculty.washington.edu/smcohen/320/theseus. html [washington.edu]

  • Re:Missing the point (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Mr. Shiny And New (525071) on Friday November 11, 2005 @11:00PM (#14013494) Homepage Journal
    One thing: old video game systems will increasingly become difficult to hook up to your TV, since they often don't have a straight video+audio output, instead relying on simulating channel 3 on the VHF band. My TV may as well not have a coax-cable input as far as I'm concerned, and the other day I considered hooking up my old Atari before deciding it's be easier to just forget it. I wouldn't be surprised if my next TV doesn't even have a tuner or a cable-tv input, instead having only SVideo, Component Video, DVI or HDMI or whatever.

    So a modern clone of an older game system can provide a nice retro-gaming feel while adding features that make the system more fun to use, i.e. perhaps a built-in library of games, or game-saving features, or wireless controllers, or better integration with home theatre setups, etc etc. Is it worth potentially hundreds of dollars for all these features? Not to me, since I never owned an NES, but maybe to you or someone else who fondly remembers Super Mario 3.
  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday November 12, 2005 @03:32AM (#14014356) Homepage
    OK, let's see what they've got.

    • 5,426,762 -- "System for determining a truth of software in an information processing apparatus".
      That's the lockout system for non-Nintendo game cartridges. You don't want to include that in an emulator. Expires January 24, 2006, anyway.
    • 5,207,426 -- "Controller for a game machine".
      Covers the physical design of the game controller. Irrelevant for an emulator.
    • 5,070,479 -- "External memory having an authenticating processor and method of operating same".
      More lockout system stuff. Expires January 24, 2006, anyway.
    • 4,799,635 -- "System for determining authenticity of an external memory used in an information processing apparatus".
      Still more lockout stuff. Appears to expire December 23, 2005.
    • 4,687,200 -- "Multi-directional switch"
      This is about how to make a cheap four-direction arrow key switch.
    None of those would ever have interfered with building an emulator.

    The design patents cover the "ornamental design" of the case and cartridge. They're irrelevant to an emulator.

    The copyright issues are a separate problem, and probably a bigger one.

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