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Worlds.com Sues NCSoft Over MMO-Patent 261

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the very-bad-ideas dept.
Lulfas writes "Worlds.com today sued NCSoft over its patent on a scalable virtual world, filed in 2000 and granted this February. This is a very broad base patent, and there is no reason to expect they will only sue NCSoft, when they should be able to use the same patent against other companies. 'Specifically, the suit claims that NCsoft has infringed on patent 7,181,690, "System and Method for Enabling Users to Interact in a Virtual Space" through its games, including City of Heroes, City of Villains, Dungeon Runners, Exteel, Guild Wars, Lineage, Lineage II, and Tabula Rasa.'"
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Worlds.com Sues NCSoft Over MMO-Patent

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  • Bilski? (Score:4, Informative)

    by poetmatt (793785) on Monday December 29, 2008 @09:44PM (#26264257) Journal

    Bilski will invalidate this extremely quickly. I guess the company suing really thought NCsoft won't figure that out, or maybe they wanted it to be invalidated that fast?

  • Re:Prior Art? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 29, 2008 @09:44PM (#26264263)

    UO's first expansion was already out before 2000 as well, so they earn the "scalable" portion as well.

  • Re:Prior Art? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 29, 2008 @09:49PM (#26264317)

    Its not just MMOs. Quake, UT, etc all fit this description as well.

  • Re:Prior Art? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Kindaian (577374) on Monday December 29, 2008 @09:55PM (#26264355) Homepage

    Even some of NCSoft games are prior art to that.

    But the issue is a bit irrelevant due to the fact that as stated before elsewhere VRML existed way before it.

    Also "World" is a fictional MMORPG anime series and fully trademarked...

    Also.. shockwave dates from 2000, and i'm sure Macromedia/Adobe will have tons of patents related with them.

    *drumrolls*

  • by Draconi (38078) on Monday December 29, 2008 @10:05PM (#26264417)

    Yeah, prior art?

    UO began development before the first patent was filed, was publicly demonstrated technology, and pretty much already did everything mentioned between the two patents.

    Obvious point being that UO is a 2D game - or is it? It has three directions of movement, but is merely rendered in military projection by the client. As far as the server goes, every avatar is represented by an X, Y, Z coordinate set.

    Draw shortcuts/prioritization by proximity, amount of other avatars/mobiles on screen? Yep.

    Scalable server architecture? Yep.

    Chat system? Yep.

    Stable? So much so that UO is now the longest continually running MMO.

    This isn't to mention Meridian 59, or the *other* MMO forerunners that already qualified for the title of 3D virtual world and were in public release before the first patent was filed.

    Could someone illuminate what parts of the patent are *not* prior art from the earliest MMOs?

  • Re:Prior Art? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Purity Of Essence (1007601) on Monday December 29, 2008 @10:18PM (#26264505)

    Filed in 2000? Um...shouldn't be too hard to show prior art

    Well, they filed an almost identical patent [google.com] in 1994, which shows slightly more forethought on their part. But still, I played GCP in the mid-eighties [atarimagazines.com] which covers most, if not all, of the claims.

  • dumb shit (Score:3, Informative)

    by LingNoi (1066278) on Monday December 29, 2008 @10:19PM (#26264509)

    This is the dumbest most unprofessional patent I have ever seen.

    Theres even a kids drawing in the patent. [google.com]

  • Re:Prior Art? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Purity Of Essence (1007601) on Monday December 29, 2008 @10:21PM (#26264523)

    in 1994

    Drat. 1994 should have been 1996.

  • Re:Prior Art? (Score:3, Informative)

    by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968&gmail,com> on Monday December 29, 2008 @10:25PM (#26264543) Journal
    Citation please? Because I just checked Google News and Slashdot and couldn't find any articles saying they were going out of business. I knew Tabula Rasa had to hurt but I thought the City Of franchises were doing well. So if you don't mind a link to the article saying that NCSoft will be broke in Feb please.
  • by WarJolt (990309) on Monday December 29, 2008 @10:30PM (#26264575)

    The Supreme Court, however, has enunciated a definitive test to determine
    whether a process claim is tailored narrowly enough to encompass only a particular
    application of a fundamental principle rather than to pre-empt the principle itself. A
    claimed process is surely patent-eligible under  101 if: (1) it is tied to a particular
    machine or apparatus, or (2) it transforms a particular article into a different state or
    thing.

    http://ipwatchdog.com/cases/bilski.pdf [ipwatchdog.com]

    Lets all work to invalidate frivolous software patents.

  • by cpu_fusion (705735) on Monday December 29, 2008 @10:34PM (#26264597)

    ... and you'll need to wade your way through 35 USC s102 and related case law to know whether alleged prior art defeated the novelty of this patent.

    It's a crappy patent -- I hate it, it's lame, and I think it is pretty damn obvious and does not advance the art -- but as to whether there is prior art, that's another story.

    [*Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer, but I am a law student.]

  • Prior art from 1979 (Score:3, Informative)

    by Attaturk (695988) on Monday December 29, 2008 @10:40PM (#26264631) Homepage
    And the first text-based multiplayer virtual world was created in 1978/1979 [livinginternet.com] by Messrs Bartle and Trubshaw. I thought everyone knew that bit of lore by now.
  • by JSBiff (87824) on Monday December 29, 2008 @10:40PM (#26264633) Journal

    If you look at the link to the actual patent, and begin reading the claims, this does not apply to the (original version of) Ultima Online, or to text muds, because the patent specifically describes a 3-dimensional graphical world as being part of the claims. UO is (or at least was, last time I played it around 2001 or 2002) 2-dimensional. Right about the time I was leaving, they introduced an expansion called Third-Dawn, which still didn't make the world truly 3D, but it did make player avatars and monsters 3D, IIRC.

    EQ, as I recall, was true 3D (I only played a trial account for like 10 days once, so my memories are rather vague), so it might be a good candidate for prior art.

    It should be noted that the patent does not appear to cover (I don't know for sure; I'm not a lawyer), the idea of a 3D MMO, per se, but rather a few necessary client rendering techniques (which, in reality, almost any 3D MMO would be likely to employ) for determining what other users' avatars should be displayed by the client. It appears the idea they are trying to patent is that, in a 3D world, when you turn the camera to look a given direction, you should only see some avatars, and not others (that is, only the ones in your field of view). Additionally, if there are a lot of avatars, this patent claims protection for the idea that the client can implement a maximum number of avatars to display, and to use the knowledge of the maximum number to display, combined with the position information, to determine some subset of the avatars to display (presumably the X nearest avatars, where X is the maximum number to display, though the patent doesn't specify this explicitly).

    I'd be shocked if EQ and Meridian59 didn't both do these things several years before this patent app was filed.

    I'd also like to point out, that the patent doesn't specify 'camera orientation' or 'client view orientation' (even though that appears to be what they are trying to cover), but rather 'avatar orientation' (which suggests to me that this patent would only apply to MMOGs where the camera orientation is locked to the avatar orientation). Based on my 3+ years of playing CoH, I can tell you that the CoH client doesn't determine which other avatars to show on screen based on the orientation of my avatar - I can spin the camera freely to point in any direction, even look completely backwards from the direction my avatar is facing, so I suspect that NCSoft could claim that as a defense, if they had to.

    Also, I think they could, maybe, make a defense against claim 6 (I'm not sure though):

    6. A method for enabling a plurality of users to interact in a virtual space, wherein each user has a computer associated therewith, wherein each computer has a client process associated therewith, wherein each client process has an avatar associated therewith, and wherein each client process is in communication with a server process, comprising:

    (a) monitoring, by each client process, a position of the avatar associated with the client process;

    (b) transmitting, by each client process to the server process, the position of the avatar associated with the client process;

    (c) transmitting, by the server process to each client process, the positions of less than all of the avatars that are not associated with the client process; and

    (d) determining from the positions transmitted in step (c), by each client process, a set of the avatars that are to be displayed.

    Now, I could be wrong here, but I thought most client/server 3D game protocols do *not* have the clients transmit the position of the avatar to the server, which is part (b)? Don't the servers already know the position of the avatar, and the clients just send a vector, that is, a request to move a certain number of units in a particular direction, at which point the server calculates a new position from the original posti

  • by cpu_fusion (705735) on Monday December 29, 2008 @10:59PM (#26264755)

    From the patent itself: Related U.S. Application Data
    (63) Continuation of application No. 08/747,420, filed on Nov. 12, 1996, now Pat. No. 6,219,045.

    Now educate yourself on continuing patents:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continuing_patent_application [wikipedia.org]

    Now look at the dates for release of Ultima Online and Everquest:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultima_online [wikipedia.org]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everquest [wikipedia.org]

    People on Slashdot discussing the Law sound as informed as your average senior citizen would sound on here discussing tech. "I PUT THE ETHERNET INTO THE HARD DRIVE WHY DOESN'T MY AOL WORK?!"

    There's a reason why people spend three years of their life in law school. It's not for their health.

  • Re:LambdaMOO (Score:4, Informative)

    by baKanale (830108) on Monday December 29, 2008 @11:17PM (#26264869)
    Slashdot Disagree Mail on November 07 [slashdot.org] Scroll down to the last email.
  • by DustyShadow (691635) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @12:01AM (#26265099) Homepage

    CONTINUED = invalidated if the state of the art eclipses the parts they add in the continuation.

    Sure but what you are discussing is called a "continuation-in-part" which is a continuation that adds new material to the old patent that isn't supported by the original specification. Continuations in part are tricky because they have two priority dates associated with them. A regular continuation is when the patentee claims different things that are supported by the original specification.

    Reread this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continuing_patent_application [wikipedia.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @12:11AM (#26265151)

    Technically UO was always 3d, the client only presented a single perspective. There is a Z component to all avatar positions, and it is possible for one object to be physically above another.

  • by Fluffeh (1273756) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @12:25AM (#26265205)
    *cracks knuckles*

    Being an avid MMO player from UO to current, as well as being a 3D developer on the Unreal Engine, I can make for some useful input here.

    The original UO was indeed a 2D isometric client. Third Dawn brought 3D aspects to the game, though the world was still rendered in isometric view. It just looked more 3Dish. There were however mods/ports to UO that rendered a 3D world! They were buggy as heck though, but you could (in theory) play in the UO world with a 3D client. (Though it was a third party client).

    Now, EQ was a true 3D world. No if's or but's about it.

    The whole bit about the number of avatars to display, that's more really related to engine/hardware performance. Basically, when developing an environment developers need to look at polygons on a screen. This is one of the main restricting factors in developing a world. The more polygons a graphics card has to render, the longer it takes. It's not the only thing, but at the time that this patent was filed, it was certainly one of the most important things.

    Now, avatars in a game generally have a much much higher polygon count than the environment around them, so naturally restricting the number shown might be very beneficial to rendering a game world nicely, however, soon after this patent was originally filed, a bright spark came up with the idea of not removing entire actors, but adding a LOD factor into models. Basically, it means that the further something is away from the camera, the less polygons it will use. This can also be ingeniously used to reduce the polygons per actor/model in the camera view if the number starts getting too high.

    To use the obligatory car analogy, if I want to limit my game engine to displaying 100 polygons on the screen at a time, I can render a car with 100 polygons, but also allow the code to reduce these polygons to 50 if a second car comes onto the screen. Should I need to have 10 cars on the screen at once, they would each be reduced to 10 polygons.

    Don't the servers already know the position of the avatar, and the clients just send a vector, that is, a request to move a certain number of units in a particular direction, at which point the server calculates a new position from the original postion + the vector?

    The section you write about actors and client/server relative positions is sort of right. It's not far off anyhow. Here is how things work in just about all client/server applications now.

    The server sets the original position to the client - when a new level loads for example. The the client sends data as to where it wants to go and both the server and client move the character around. Now, due to a number of factors such as latency, packet loss as well as a number of others, the two locations will become out of sync. However, rather than the server being updated with the client's location, what happens is that the client is updated with the server's location of where it things the character is. This sometimes leads to what is known as the "slingshot effect" where characters (or other actors) suddenly update in the client view and appear to slingshot around the screen to catch up. A notable exception to this rule is World of Warcraft, which does actually have servers that will quite happily allow a character anywhere in the world that the client lets them get. This has resulted in some rather funny "exploits" where people altered their clients and walked past mobs to get to the final boss in an instance and then just started attacking it. This may have been fixed in one of the expansions however. While I am not entirely sure, I think that D&D Online may have also suffered from the client updating the server with actor locations, as I recall there was a considerable number of movement hacks and exploits in that game.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:47AM (#26265987)

    Meridian 59 got released in December 1995, nearly an year before the patent was filed (November 1996).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meridian_59 [wikipedia.org]
    http://meridian59.neardeathstudios.com/ [neardeathstudios.com]

  • by Richard W.M. Jones (591125) <rich.annexia@org> on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @05:35AM (#26266323) Homepage

    This is something we were working on from 1998. We documented the design in some detail, and I released the documentation to prevent people from trying to patent it: http://www.annexia.org/freeware/fleet [annexia.org]

    The innovation in this (never-built) MMO is that the design requires no server at all. It what might now be called "P2P" (although that term wasn't around at the time).

    Rich.

  • by Ramion (178075) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @07:20AM (#26266689) Journal

    There is a few games that was released before 2000.
    Meridian 59 - Released in 1996
    Everquest - Released in 1999
    Asheron's Call - Released in 1999

    This is according to:
    http://www.mmorpg.com/gamelist.cfm/show/all/sCol/estimatedRelease/sOrder/asc [mmorpg.com]

  • by feardiagh (608834) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @01:26PM (#26269163)

    For those not willing to click through and read:

    Abstract

    "The present invention provides a highly scalable architecture for a three-dimensional graphical, multi-user, interactive virtual world system. In a preferred embodiment a plurality of users interact in the three-dimensional, computer-generated graphical space where each user executes a client process to view a virtual world from the perspective of that user. The virtual world shows avatars representing the other users who are neighbors of the user viewing the virtual word. In order that the view can be updated to reflect the motion of the remote user's avatars, motion, information is transmitted to a central server process which provides positions updates to client processes for neighbors of the user at that client process. The client process also uses an environment database to determine which background objects to render as well as to limit the movement of the user's avatar."

    So basically they are trying to patent everyone from William Gibson to Neal Stephenson to Rudy Rucker's version of 'cyberspace' or whatnot. And I do think UO and EQ definitely beat them to the punch as far as implementation.

  • by urulokion (597607) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @02:18PM (#26269645)

    I did a Google search for Cyberterm I found Michael's paper about Cyberterm [washington.edu]. After reading the paper throughly, it seems to be prior art to most, if not all, claims of that patent. There is publish date of the paper, but the web page headers indicate a date of July, 1992. And the paper talks of release of source code in late '92, and the work that went into the project from the last year. I now have absolutely no worries at all that patent. To borrow a phrase, that patent is BUSTED!

    And I wish I had know about the software back then. I was heavy in Amigas at that time. I would have loved to take that software for spin and help out.

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