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Activision Blizzard Sued For Patent Infringement Over WoW, CoD 194

Posted by Soulskill
from the good-luck-with-that dept.
New submitter thunderdanp writes with news that a company called Worlds Inc. has filed a patent suit against Activision Blizzard, targeting World of Warcraft and the Call of Duty series. The patents in question describe a "System and Method for Enabling Users to Interact in a Virtual Space." Worlds Inc. is quite glad that "their" technology has "helped the businesses of virtual worlds gaming and the sale of virtual goods to grow into a multibillion-dollar industry" — but now they want a cut.
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Activision Blizzard Sued For Patent Infringement Over WoW, CoD

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  • Sounds familiar... is this a repost or did they sue other companies already? If the latter, what happened to those cases?

  • by Zakabog (603757) <john AT jmaug DOT com> on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:44PM (#39679881)

    How did they even get a patent for this? They basically described every multiplayer video game for the past 20 years.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Reading the patent, which was granted in 2009, it seems no different than what Second Life did in 2002, so at least that much is prior art. I have not used other virtual worlds, so not sure if there are even earlier 3D virtual worlds as prior art. The patent makes no mention of Second Life that I can find, which given it's popularity as a virtual world, is a glaring omission. World of Warcraft was released in 2004, and also predates the patent.

      • by Faluzeer (583626)

        Hmmm

        If you read the patent, you will see it refers to earlier patent applications on a related theme from them. The earliest patent application goes back to November 1995, hence it is prior art from before that date that needs to be taken into consideration.

        • You mean like DikuMUD?

        • by jd (1658) <imipak&yahoo,com> on Friday April 13, 2012 @07:01PM (#39680719) Homepage Journal

          Everything but the 3D aspect was done in AberMUD (which used a 2D graphical interface in a dedicated client). Basic GUI-driven avatar-based multi-player interactions via specialized clients can be traced back to XTrek at least (XTank didn't use clients per-se, since the server transmitted X protocol commands to the client display), since avatars could directly interact and players could chat via a console.

          In terms of 3D interactions, Second Life was hardly the first. Alpha World was earlier and even that was derived from earlier attempts.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Active_Worlds [wikipedia.org]

          Aha! Yes, Worlds Inc was responsible for Alpha World. That makes sense, and certainly Alpha World has a legitimate claim to being the direct ancestor of WoW, etc, and the platform that developed all of the technology used by Second Life, ad nausium. It's a push for them to claim the sole rights to MMORG Virtual Realities, though.

          • I'll raise you a decade. Midi Maze [wikipedia.org] for the Atari ST in 1987. 3D Networked multi-player game using MIDI for data communiations.
            • The key part of the first claim, as I understand it, is server-side determination of which other avatars a given player is allowed to see: "wherein the client device does not receive position information of at least some avatars that fail to satisfy a participant condition imposed on avatars displayable on a client device display of the client device". For example, the server might hide other players that are too far away or players on the opposing team that are hidden behind walls.
              • by Sabriel (134364)

                "... is server-side determination of which other avatars a given player is allowed to see"

                So basically they're patenting algorithms?

              • by yahwotqa (817672)

                Yes, every MUD did this from the very beginning. Who do you think decides whether to send "Yourmom the Hobbit is standing here." or "Yourmom leaves west.", based on whether you can see player Yourmom (invisibility, sneaking, various detection buffs and such come into play here)? The server does. It's just not in 3D.

        • by rtb61 (674572)

          Ohh, look someone has patented that piece of crap movie Lawnmowerman 2 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116839/ [imdb.com] released in 22 August 1996 in Australia now including production time, that puts it well before that date. Now that is just one blatant example.

          1) Watch a crap movie
          2) Describe what's going on in patent language.
          3) Bullshit Uncle Tom patent law revision, fuck prior art, if it ain't patented patent it and fight it out in court.
          4)???????
          5) Profit.

          One can only imagine all the stuff that is c

      • by Dahamma (304068) on Friday April 13, 2012 @06:23PM (#39680331)

        That's what I thought at first - but the submitter linked to the wrong patent(s). They have several dating all the way back to the mid 90's that at least predate any commercial 3D MMORPGs.

        Not saying they aren't stupid patents, but at the least they were not in fact stupid enough to try to sue their prior art...

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      After reading the patent it seems like they got it for a specific implementation, which they believe is similar to the one WOW uses.

    • by medv4380 (1604309)
      They bought it from someone. If memory serves me it was sold by some charity. This patent has been around for a while. Worlds.com should be dead by now but they seam to have the life expectancy of SCO
    • by suutar (1860506)
      Looking at the first few claims, it looks like they basically took the concept and then started shaving off little bits to keep it from _quite_ matching anything they knew about. Basically an attempt to patent "this thing everybody's doing but only the pieces that nobody's done yet". Unless there's some interesting stuff in the later claims, I'd seriously question it on obviousness.
    • by MoFoQ (584566)

      Not to mention, WoW and CoD were released long before that patent "Worlds" was filed.

      CoD (1st one) was 2003
      CoD4:MW was 2007
      MW2 was 2009
      etc

      WoW was 2004
      And yes, there have been expansion-packs and such since then.

      not a fan of activision/blizzard but I hope they win (and set some form of precedent) or something that leads to a decrease in patent-troll-ism

    • by deblau (68023)

      Because they filed the original application 16.5 years ago, when there wasn't so much prior art.

      This application is a continuation of and claims priority from U.S. patent application Ser. No. 12/353,218 filed Jan. 13, 2009, now U.S. Pat. No. 7,945,856; which is a continuation of and claims priority from U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/591,878, filed Nov. 2, 2006, now U.S. Pat. No. 7,493,558; which is a continuation of and claims priority from U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/632,154, filed Aug. 3, 2000, now U.S. Pat. No. 7,181,690; which is a continuation of and claims priority from U.S. patent application Ser. No. 08/747,420, filed Nov. 12, 1996, now U.S. Pat. No. 6,219,045; which claims priority from U.S. Provisional patent application Ser. No. 60/020,296, filed Nov. 13, 1995. The disclosures of all of the foregoing patent documents are incorporated herein by reference.

      • 16.5 years ago, when there wasn't so much prior art.

        But still enough that the court should kick them out so hard they'll be wearing the bootmark for years: Neverwinter Nights came out in 1991. Several other MMORPGs based on proprietary online services came out before the original application as well.

  • by Shikaku (1129753) on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:44PM (#39679889)

    http://www.worlds.com/ [worlds.com]

    It's mostly empty now. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqel0k0NzNU [youtube.com] has a short walk around of something before Second Life came around, and that still runs well on 56k.

  • Prior Art (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Nos9 (442559) on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:46PM (#39679917)

    There is this obscure game called Everquest that does all of the described elements of the patents. Everquest released March 16th, 1999. The aforementioned patent was filed March 19th, 1999.

    • by Rhywden (1940872)
      Meridian 59 came even earlier in 1996.
    • by Fishbulb (32296)

      Forget that, there's this obscure game called netrek that beats Everquest by about ten years. And if you're going to talk about multiple users in 'virtual space', that's pretty much all netrek is.

      Scratch that, beats it by 11 years. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Netrek [wikipedia.org]

    • by deblau (68023)

      No, it was filed March 19, 2009. But EQ isn't prior art; see this http://games.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2785717&threshold=3&commentsort=0&mode=thread&pid=39679881#39681965 [slashdot.org]

  • by Jeng (926980) on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:46PM (#39679921)

    I see that they made a spinoff company to litigate with so that when they lose they don't lose the shirts off their back when they lose, which they will.

    • It's called a front organization (a shell corporation). They express purpose is to firewall liability from the parent company. They should be illegal if not already. It's bad enough the parent co is granted personhood. Even worse when it's used as a shield.

    • by Kalriath (849904)

      No, that happens everywhere. Did you know almost every film is produced by a company, usually named the same as the film, which makes no money because it has to pay the REAL production companies 99% of the income?

      Have a look at the tail end of the credits for a blockbuster film sometime, when they start rambling about the copyright owners and licensing.

  • by RichMan (8097) on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:48PM (#39679935)

    really really ancient unix network multiplayer game

    ----
            The object of the game hunt is to kill off the other players. There are no rooms, no treasures, and no monsters.
            Instead, you wander around a maze, find grenades, trip mines, and shoot down walls and players. The more players
            you kill before you die, the better your score is. If the -m flag is given, you enter the game as a monitor (you
            can see the action but you cannot play).

            hunt normally looks for an active game on the local network; if none is found, it starts one up on the local host.
            The location of the game may be specified by giving the host argument. This presupposes that a hunt game is
            already running on that host, see huntd(6) for details on how to setup a game on a specific host. If more than one
            game if found, you may pick which game to play in.

            The symbols on the screen are:
                        -|+ walls /\ diagonal (deflecting) walls
                        # doors (dispersion walls)
                        ; small mine
                        g large mine
                        : bullet
                        o grenade
                        O satchel charge
                        @ bomb
                        s small slime
                        $ big slime
                        >^v you facing right, left, up, or down
                        }{i! other players facing right, left, up, or down
                        * explosion
                        \|/
                        -*- grenade and large mine explosion /|\

    ----
    chat was possible using other unix utilities so it was not part of the game

    • by Dynedain (141758)

      The patent clearly states 3D/VR implementations.

      • by RichMan (8097)

        Hunt is more than 2D as "invisible" is a 3D parameter above the 2D rendering.
        Hunt has you can't see behind you as well.
        Hunt even has dynamic environments in that the walls can be destroyed and restored.

        Hunt is VR in that you can't see behind you and you can't see others or walls unless they are in your sight line.

        You could make a 3D hunt client without changing any of the network code. And even play 3D hunt with other people on 2D clients without getting any advantages or disadvantages.

  • In other words: "Give me money for free! I don't feel like making an honest, productive living!!!"

  • by Grayhand (2610049) on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:54PM (#39680011)
    It's obvious that the lawsuits are ridiculous but what's most ridiculous is they are allowed to file after this many years. Usually there's a three year cut off. These companies, and some of them are the majors, sit back and let the totals add up until there are businesses valued in the hundreds of millions to billions of dollars to sue. It's a blatant way of preventing the offender from modifying their product to avoid being sued and to rack up as much damages as possible before filing. Some minor tweaks in WoW might have avoided the lawsuit so they sit quietly until the damages are massive then sue. Without reading the patents it's hard to say but some of their claims involve things that have been standard in gaming for more than 20 years. The biggest advance in WoW was faster computers and connections allowing multiple players to interact. Also how could it have "helped the businesses of virtual worlds gaming and the sale of virtual goods to grow into a multibillion-dollar industry" when the ones being sued were never aware of the patents in the first place. It's like patenting the wheel then keeping it to yourself then claiming the car companies stole your design.
    • by geekoid (135745)

      sigh. I wish people wuiold make an effort tounderstand the things they complain about.

      This is a continuous patent. It goes back to 1995

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

      Please try to understand the basic concepts of things you don't like.
      Anyone who doesn't do that is hating something based on a 'gut feeling'' which is useless.

      • by wmbetts (1306001)

        Okay they patented something obvious in 1995 instead of 2005. His point is they patented something so obvious everyone in that field had 0 idea that the patented existed, but still came to the same conclusion.

        • by Teancum (67324)

          I have a very hard time believing that nobody knew this patent existed, and certainly the developers at Blizzard should have known about Alpha World and Worlds, Inc. well before they started the game. Worlds, Inc. really did create some amazing software that was ground breaking in a whole bunch of ways and was well known to developers who were familiar with the state of the art... because these guys actually did create some of the first kind of custom avatars that had player to player interaction. Not rea

      • by alienzed (732782)
        Yeah, it's only ok to do that if politics are involved!
      • by makomk (752139)

        Ah, continuations on patents, that clever trick where you can legally claim to have invented something a decade before you actually thought of the idea.

  • The patent was filed March 19, 2009 and only describes the basic steps to display avatars in a MMO setting. WoW was released in 2004 and it certainly hasn't been the first (3D) MMO. The abuse seems so obvious that I don't think a trial would last long. And AFAIK the loser now has to pay the costs of the proceedings.

    • by Grond (15515)

      The company's earliest patents go back to at least 1996 [google.com] and possibly earlier. You also have to remember that many patents are the result of continuations or divisionals and can thus claim the benefit of the filing date of the parent application. The other patents that I looked at seem to derive from the same early filing. You can't just look at the filing date of the application, you have to go up the chain.

      And AFAIK the loser now has to pay the costs of the proceedings.

      As a general rule this is not corr

  • you should have a relatively short time limit to recognize your patent being used without permission and sue for it. waiting to see which business became profitable off you should invalidate your claim.
    • by Grond (15515)

      There is a six year limitation on damages that functions similar to a statute of limitations. 35 U.S.C. 286 [cornell.edu]. The defenses of laches and waiver are also potentially available if a patent owner sits on their rights after becoming aware of possible infringement.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 13, 2012 @06:11PM (#39680199)

    http://massively.joystiq.com/2010/04/27/worlds-com-vs-ncsoft-lawsuit-settled/

    from the article:
    "Worlds.com president and sole full-time employee Thomas Kidrin has simply exhausted his resources. Kidrin was recently quoted as saying "if we do not develop any new projects, we would have to severely diminish our operations or halt them entirely,"

  • by kbonin (58917) on Friday April 13, 2012 @06:31PM (#39680401) Homepage

    Those of us who worked and actually innovated in VR in the late 80s and early 90s have always been a little worried about Worlds, as they liked to run off to the patent office with all the ideas the collected from the rest of us. All of their patent claims existed in other products - even their first patents were an attempt to claim basic VR tech shown several years before by several groups, including the one I worked with (OnLive Traveler). There is plenty of prior art to invalidate these patents, but in our glorious patent system it will cost millions to do so. And like SCO, their legal zombie remains keep trying to extend old claims and collect something for the little invalid patent portfolio that was passed on when they shut down. The software patent apocalypse continues....

    • by Grond (15515) on Friday April 13, 2012 @06:39PM (#39680483) Homepage

      There is plenty of prior art to invalidate these patents, but in our glorious patent system it will cost millions to do so.

      Requesting an ex parte reexamination costs $2,520, plus a fairly modest amount for a patent attorney to put together the request. The Patent Office takes it from there, and any litigation is typically stayed pending the result. Worlds' patent portfolio appears to be pretty small, only five patents, so all five could be thrown into reexam for not a lot of money. For a more hands-on approach there's inter partes reexamination, though it is a bit more expensive, but still cheaper than litigation. Litigation is not the only way to address a potentially invalid patent, depending on the defenses one plans to raise (i.e. not all possible defenses are available in reexamination).

    • by Teancum (67324)

      Of any complaints that I've seen here, this is the most legitimate. Most of the other claims of stuff like World of Warcraft being the first to do stuff like this just make me want to puke in terms of the sheer ignorance of the people posting.

      There were many sources of ideas that came from the virtual reality community, and I agree with the sentiments you are making here. The patents were filed though and not invalidated, and I certainly hate the software patent system including how difficult it is to pro

  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duke_Nukem_3D released 1996 and while doom is referenced, duke is not. I also think the detailed list of commands would not bode well for them since each program would have it's own language and functions. Most don't even use plain english such as world's "invention"

  • I double checked, but a number of those patents are no longer enforceable since prior to 1995 it was 17 years from the filing date. After that it was 20 years after the filing date. With the earliest date being 1977. My guess is they are throwing them all in, and hoping some stick. So everything filed in 1994 (2011 is 17 years later) or earlier has already expired. Lack of enforcement of the patents may work against them too.

You can do this in a number of ways. IBM chose to do all of them. Why do you find that funny? -- D. Taylor, Computer Science 350

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