[MUD-Dev] patents and muds

Richard Bartle 76703.3042 at compuserve.com
Fri Oct 15 04:46:16 New Zealand Daylight Time 1999


Bruce Mitchener, Jr. <bruce at puremagic.com> writes:
 
 >I hesitate to bring this up here, but with the constant issuing of patents
 >on basic things, it might be interesting to consider what might happen when
 >large companies start patenting mechanisms that they use in systems like
 >Ultima Online, EverQuest, Asheron's Call, Middle Earth Online, and so on.
        I guess this means you haven't heard about the Sitrick patent,
US patent number 4,572,509, awarded 25th February 1986? Here's Sitrick's
abstract:
 
        "A system of distributed video game apparatus are capable of
        exhibiting an interactive single identity game. In one embodiment
        there is provided a distributed game apparatus, selectively
        interlinkable to form a homogenous single identity game or as a
        peer game in the single identity system. The function of each
        video game apparatus can be defined at the start of game play.
        Each video game apparatus has a user input device, and can have
        its own video display, or a master video display can be provided
        for the whole system. As a single identity  game system, each
        display, or the master display, can display the composite display
        resulting from the totality of peer game interaction. Alternatively,
        the display can provide individual peer game information.
        Individual peer game information can be communicated either globally
        or individually to and from selected one of the peer games. The
        system can provide for generating global and individual peer game
        displays to the selected display device. A communications
        manager can provide for interaction of remotely located
        individual game apparatus."
 
Sitrick (who is himself now a patent lawyer, I understand) asserts this
patent in the case of online games. Many companies pay him licence fees, but
at least one has decided that he can't be allowed to get away with it.
It is likely to cost them several million dollars in lawyers' fees to break
it.
        US patent lawyers inform me that any "prior art" which might affect
the patent's validity must have existed prior to one year before the patent
application was received. In the case of the Sitrick patent, this is
something like September 1981. Furthermore, proof of existence is only
valid for existence in the USA; for existence in the rest of the world,
actual publication is required.
        So far from worrying that the likes of Electronic Arts, Sony and
Nintendo might pull a patent out of the bag and stymie all online games
development, you might instead worry that if you already so much as make a
bean from online games yourself you could receive a letter from Sitrick's
lawyers spelling out his licence terms.
 
                Richard



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