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First Person Shooters (Games) Patents

Creative Pressures id Software With Patents 339

Cryect writes "Earlier today it was announced by Creative that they would be adding in EAX 3D sound support to Doom 3, and that they had come to an 'agreement relating to Creative's patented shadowing technique [also known as Carmack's Reverse in some coding circles] and id's cutting-edge 3D graphics DOOM 3 engine.' This seemed somewhat suspicious, almost as if id was being pressured, and a quick email to John Carmack from Reverend @ Beyond3d got this reply: 'The patent situation well and truly sucks... It was tempting to take a stand and say that our products were never going to use any advanced Creative/3DLabs products because of their position on patenting gaming software algorithms, but that would only have hurt the users...' There's also some possible prior art [PPT link] to Creative Labs' patent, from a 1999 talk by Nvidia's Sim Dietrich."
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Creative Pressures id Software With Patents

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  • by brendanoconnor ( 584099 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @12:28PM (#9822691)
    This is a perfect example of why I really hate software patents. Company X will talk about something, hype it up, not mention a bloody patent, then when someone uses it, the company waits around until the opportune moment, then BAM!!!! pulls some patent infringment BS out of their bum.

    It is not right. I understand the importance of patents outside of the software industry, I really do. I think that if someone comes up with a clever idea and makes a prototype and intends to sell said object, then they should have a grace period of how long they can be the only ones. I'm up for debate on how long this period should be, but still. In software this just does not happen. You have these companies that are entirely setup with a bunch of patents and they just sue other companies to make money. Talk about shaddy business.

    Patent a way to click a button, or how a shadow is rendered, or something just as rediculous is wrong and should not be possible. It hurts the industry more then it helps anyone. It will be aweful to see the rest of the world pass us by because we are unable to innovate because of all the legal mess we have. We have no one to blame but ourselves though.

    I hope all of this mess does not affect Doom 3 release date, and it is almost a shame ID did not stick it to Creative. It is nice to see a company care about the user for once to though.

  • by Merk ( 25521 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @12:36PM (#9822713) Homepage
    We were prepared to use a two-pass algorithm that gave equivalent results at a speed hit, but we negotiated the deal with Creative so that we were able to use the zfail method without having to actually pay any cash. It was tempting to take a stand and say that our products were never going to use any advanced Creative/3dlabs products because of their position on patenting gaming software algorithms, but that would only have hurt the users.

    Sadly, if Mr. Carmack won't take a stand against evil software patents, I doubt anybody will, or will at least do so successfully.

    Think about it. John Carmack has influence and money. People will continue to buy the games id makes, whether or not they use this patented technology. Sure, they might be slightly slower, but considering all the other optimizations id is famous for, it's unlikely anybody would notice.

    If a free software project wanted to challenge a patent like this, it wouldn't stand a chance. With no money, it couldn't defend itself. From the other side, the companies that have more power than id simply don't care to take a stand on issues like this.

    I can't help but feel that Mr. Carmack wimped out of this fight. Saying that it hurts gameply is just an easy out. Would people really have noticed?

    Maybe it's not too late. Maybe if enough people speak up about this, either id will decide to reverse their decision, or Creative will back down and make their patent available royalty-free.

  • Dont worry! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @12:45PM (#9822735)
    Dont worry that US will be left behind - soon the rest of the world will also have the same stupid patent and DMCA-style laws that will stifle innovation and maybe seriously harm free software.

    This because of different trade agreements where the US is a part (NAFTA, WTO, etc). (using trade as leverage). And also thanks to big companies doing massive lobbying for these kind of laws. We really dont have a good democracy anywhere in the world, since it is money = power.

    I recommend everyone to see this movie:

  • Surprise? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by superultra ( 670002 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:00PM (#9822773) Homepage
    Hmm, this press release seems rather pleasant in tone.

    Is a press release ever NOT pleasant in tone? Of course it's pleasant; if id is being legally pursued by Creative they wouldn't print a press release saying, "Creative can blow." That kind of talk is saved for plan files, not press releases.
  • by kingLatency ( 624983 ) <{alex.kahn} {at} {}> on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:07PM (#9822799) Homepage
    Companies that hang on to valuable IP just to make money off of infringing companies don't just exist in the software world. They exist in all industries and what they do is completely legal. I once had it explained to me in a way that made it seem ethically sound! Now, I don't see the distinction. Why is this practice abhorrent in software but fine elsewhere?
  • by moSSad ( 736632 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:10PM (#9822806) Homepage Journal
    id Software it's one of the latest small developers in the field. Pretty much everyone else (besides Epic maybe), is owned by the big game publishers. id is still independent. They don't have the financiar muscle of Creative. They did the only intelligent move, let Creative babble about their collaboration in a *sigh* nicely made press release. Let's try not to get the wrong picture here: id are the good guys, Creative the bad ones.
  • by kenthorvath ( 225950 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:19PM (#9822839)
    The problem is not the software patents, per se, but rather the length of time for which they endure. In an industry that changes dramatically from year to year with new technologies relying on the acceptance of older technologies, it would seem that keeping techniques and algorithms locked down for 17 years does more to hinder new advancements than to help.

    A more reasonable term should be adopted for software patents say more on the order of 2 or 3 years. A lot of money can be made in that time frame giving enough insentive to develop without taking too much from the people whom these patents affect.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:42PM (#9822922)
    The EAX environmental audio is lame compared to the Aureal environmental audio. So naturally the worst standard won in the marketplace and the best standard was purchased and buried.

    Creative Labs sucks. Their sound cards have stability problems and EAX buring Aureal really pisses me off.
  • Ask Slashdot (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:47PM (#9822951)
    Todays question is -- How Important is Creative?

    My own take: Not very. They're about the only game in town when it comes to fancy-pants gaming sound cards. The thing is that a fancy pants gaming soundcard is not very important to me. Don't get me wrong I'm a pretty big gamer, but who really wants a computer desk coverd with a dozen speakers and the attendant wires? I haven't had a creative soundcard since the early soundblaster days. Creative products apart from soundcards? They just re-badge other people's stuff. I'd consider the RIO mp-3 players, but rio isn't creative anymore, right? I haven't had anything from creative in years, and I haven't missed it. Even as a computer gamer. The $20-$30 econo soundboard has been fine for me for as long as I can remember. I think my 486 might have had a creative board. Maybe.

    What do you guys think? When you're putting together a setup what do you think about when it comes to soundboards? Do you have to have the best one? How much do you usually spend? Do you really love the 3d sound? Have you GOTTA have the latest pimptastic creative soundboard for like $250? Some people need super awsome soundboards because they make computer music, but then the creative boards aren't the ones you want anyway, right?

    While the fury of /. is intense it is also generally short lived. But ditching creative products is not a difficult proposition. And ever since I heard about how they bragged that they could keep costs down by holding back innovation (this was back in the aureal days) I've always kinda thought they were a bunch of dickheads.
  • by poot_rootbeer ( 188613 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:55PM (#9823024)
    Sure, they might be slightly slower, but considering all the other optimizations id is famous for, it's unlikely anybody would notice.

    Are you kidding me?

    Gamers will spend $400 on a video card, more than it would cost to buy an Xbox AND a PS2, in hopes of getting an extra handful of fps in 3D Shooter Game #837.
  • by johndiii ( 229824 ) * on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:59PM (#9823061) Journal
    Good question. Part of the patent process is disclosing the invention, so the technique itself is public knowledge. So where does this leave us? What would constitute a violation of the patent? Probably selling the source code would be a violation, even though the source implementing this technique is a minuscule part of the game source. Simply publishing the source might not be, since id presumably has the copyright on their own code, and an apparently valid license from Creative to use the patented technique. Would it be legal for an end-user to compile the code? Seems likely. Would it be legal to distribute binaries of the compiled code (free or for a fee)? Probably not. GPL release? Possibly not, though this is a copyright issue rather than a patent one.

    Caveat: I am not a lawyer; I am attempting to apply common sense to the dubious notion of a patent on a technique, on a particular algorithm. This is one reason why software patents are goofy (highly technical legal term) - traditionally, a patent applied to a particular implementation of an idea, not to the idea itself.
  • by nattt ( 568106 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:03PM (#9823116)
    The problem is with the mere idea of patenting software. Software is protected by trade secrets and copyrights. Patents should apply to things, not virtual things. Hell, I'd like to see the end of patents altogether ( in their current form) - I hate the idea that it's first to the patent office who gets the monopoly. Independent works should also get protection because they put equally hard work into their invention too. As long as they didn't copy, then that would be fine by me.

    Inventions are often hard, and really, if the invention is already out there, it's much cheaper to buy rather than re-invent, but if you put the effort into inventing parallel (or without any knowledge of) a patented invention, why should you not also get protection???

  • by Baldrson ( 78598 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:04PM (#9823130) Homepage Journal
    1. The legal system biases "justice" toward those with money more than those with creative skills.
    2. Patents depend on the legal system.
    Ergo those with creative skills are deprived of the money needed to pursue, not only their rights to more money, but are deprived of the money needed to pursue creations that require money (since the people expert at acquiring money rarely possess the insight necessary to understand the distinction between genuinely creative enterprise and some sort of false inspiration).

    W. D. Hamilton wrote [] of this sort of thing as being the down-fall of civilizations:

    The incursions of barbaric pastoralists seem to do civilizations less harm in the long run than one might expect. Indeed, two dark ages and renaissances in Europe suggest a recurring pattern in which a renaissance follows an incursion by about 800 years. It may even be suggested that certain genes or traditions of pastoralists revitalize the conquered people with an ingredient of progress which tends to die out in a large panmictic population for the reasons already discussed. I have in mind altruism itself, or the part of the altruism which is perhaps better described as self-sacrificial daring. By the time of the renaissance it may be that the mixing of genes and cultures (or of cultures alone if these are the only vehicles, which I doubt) has continued long enough to bring the old mercantile thoughtfulness and the infused daring into conjunction in a few individuals who then find courage for all kinds of inventive innovation against the resistance of established thought and practice. Often, however, the cost in fitness of such altruism and sublimated pugnacity to the individuals concerned is by no means metaphorical, and the benefits to fitness, such as they are, go to a mass of individuals whose genetic correlation with the innovator must be slight indeed. Thus civilization probably slowly reduces its altruism of all kinds, including the kinds needed for cultural creativity (see also Eshel 1972). /blockquote
  • by Have Blue ( 616 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:18PM (#9823284) Homepage
    Patents are meant to protect the investment required to create a brand-new thing and the ability to recoup those costs. That fundamental concept can still apply to software, if not in its present broken form.
  • by gnu-generation-one ( 717590 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:22PM (#9823322) Homepage
    "This is a perfect example of why I really hate software patents."

    Those who can, do. Those who can't, patent.

    "I don't have the technical skills necessary to make a product out of idea x, therefore I'll patent it, and make sure that nobody else can make a product eithter."

    I think the comparaison was with the "dog in a manager" fable. Patents are for people who want to prevent others from creating things.
  • by karnal ( 22275 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:23PM (#9823331)
    In addition, let's say you have an onboard sound chip that is creative, that you have turned on in the bios to use something akin to TeamSpeak, but use a Santa Cruz for the game.

    You'd have to check which card you're using, not just blindly screwing people who have a Creative chip hooked up to their PCI bus....

    All in all, more problems than it solves.
  • John, just do it! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FyRE666 ( 263011 ) * on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:25PM (#9823359) Homepage
    ...and it is almost a shame ID did not stick it to Creative...

    Have to agree, I would love to see iD remove support for Creative soundcards, or at least offer enhanced sound support for any other brand. Maybe then the asshats over at CL will see what happens when you bite the hand that feeds.

    I wonder which boardroom genius decided to threaten the company behind the most eagerly awaited game of all time, when game players are one of the biggest buyers of your products. Fuck Creative; I was looking to buy a new Audigy card this month, absolutely no chance now, I'm looking elsewhere...
  • by goates ( 412876 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:53PM (#9823702)
    And if Microsoft got caught adding code to hinder compatibility with third party programs (I don't really know if they actually did this), everyone on /. would get up in arms. No double standard here. I think Mr. Carmack is a little more mature than that.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @04:10PM (#9824624)
    Unfortunately, the patent office isn't even that good at spotting when a patent application has already been patented by someone else, so it's quite possible it would end up in court anyway.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @04:29PM (#9824894)
    I didn't know such thing was possible. It seems software companies are patenting things left and right and it doesn't seem right. John Carmack and Id can't even stand up to guys like this. Come on John fight it. I'll wait and as a game fan support Id and others who stand up against such blatant greed. Just let us know how to help. I will not be buying stuff from Creative ever again to send a message.

  • by theluckyleper ( 758120 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @04:54PM (#9825257) Homepage
    I'm suggesting that there should be a statute of limitation on the act of suing for patent infringement, once the infringing act has taken place.

    I think the most despicable abuse of patents is when the patent holder KNOWS of an ongoing infringement, but holds off on filing suit for years and years while people become dependent on the technology.

    If the patent holder only had 2 years to act once they were aware of an infringement (as is the case in China) this problem would be solved.
  • by 0x0d0a ( 568518 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @06:36PM (#9826220) Journal
    Unfortunately, other areas of audio have suffered. There is no "OpenGL" of 3D audio because Creative owns all of the patents from its acquisition of companies like Aureal and Sensaura. They will always have the one-up on 3D audio performance over their customers, and any improvements will be at their own pace.

    This has become standard practice for technology companies over the past few years, since sometime in the nineties. Basically, large technology companies maintain a staff of researchers whose job it is to churn out patents related to their product -- not necessarily new or interesting technology, but to shotgun enough that at least some get through. They then cross-license with all other manufacturers in the arena that they are in. At that point, the patents stop having value for driving production of useful new technology, since any patent is simply immediately available to all competitors. Instead, they are solely used to prevent any new competitors from entering the arena -- they act as oligarchy maintainers. This means that the only competition each company has is the other existing companies in the arena -- as those are bought out or go out of business, the market is left more and more to the remaining players. It is an extremely damaging attack on free markets, and is a business practice that is now in widespread use. The hard drive companies (Seagate, IBM and friends) do it. The GPU companies (ATI, NVidia and friends) do it. The CPU manufacturers (AMD, Intel and friends) do it. As a result of this approach, most substantial improvements that could be used against a competitor are not patented, since this allows them to actually be useful competitive tools -- undermining the very reason for having patents in the first place.

    Patents, in such situations, no longer serve their purpose at all -- the funding of the creation of useful new things. The only solution is really to eliminate software patents. I have yet to see particularly impressive research coming from such a situation -- I cannot see any reason to maintain the existence of software patents. I'd like to hear from *one* Slashdotter that does good research who is supported by patent royalties (or works in a lab and feels that their patents, rather than the existence of their work and the barriers established by time-to-reimplement, is where their primary value to their lab comes from).
  • by grimani ( 215677 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @09:23PM (#9827345)
    every manufacturer under the sun is the devil incarnate for not including drivers and support for linux (nevermind whether an economic proposition exists for supporting their products in linux),

    but when it comes to patents, our beloved carmack should take a stand based on principle and


    heh. so no support for linux is heinous, but no support for everything is alright?
  • by *weasel ( 174362 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @09:42PM (#9827443)
    You didn't know that, because it's completely false.

    So long as the original inventor has a product, its design, etc stored somewhere with a verifiable creat-date, it's prior art.

    The only way a second-round 'inventor' could patent it and charge the original inventor fees, is if the original inventor hadn't invented his product yet, or shown it to anyone on a verifiable prior date.

    Things like the described hypothetical in the GP Post do not happen.
    Software patents are a Bad Idea, but they're not that bad.

"The number of Unix installations has grown to 10, with more expected." -- The Unix Programmer's Manual, 2nd Edition, June, 1972