UPDATE - NCsoft Singled Out in Patent Infringement Suit




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Apparently NCsoft's Austin headquarters received one heck of an href="http://www.virtualworldsnews.com/2008/12/worldscom-files-suit-against-ncsoft.html">unpleasant
gift on Christmas Eve, as Worlds.com
filed a complaint against the publisher for infringing on it's virtual
world patent with Texas courts.  The suit claims that NCsoft
infringed on patent 7,181, 690, “ href="http://www.google.com/patents?id=wv5-AAAAEBAJ&dq=7,181,690">System
and Method for Enabling Users to Interact in a Virtual Space”.
 Not only does the complaint seek to recover damages, but also
wants NCsoft to be prevented from any further infringement on the
patent.



It's important to note that though the patent was filed on August 3,
2000 (prior to the release of the NCsoft games listed in the
complaint), it wasn't issued until Feb 20, 2007 – well style="font-style: italic;">after the release
of the listed games.



The patent itself describes the following
“invention”:


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 world



The description goes on from there, but that should be enough to sound
pretty familiar to anyone who's ever played an MMOG in the past ten
years.  What's also interesting to note is a href="http://www.google.com/patents?id=wv5-AAAAEBAJ&printsec=abstract&zoom=4&dq=7,181,690">sketch
which
depicts the “invention” as a part of the patent
filing.  If you take away the penguins, it looks an style="font-style: italic;">awful lot
like style="font-style: italic;">Ultima Online,
or earlier versions of href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/38"> style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest's
UI, wouldn't you
agree?



This is worth pointing out, because the patent was filed style="font-style: italic;">after the
release of the above mentioned MMOGs, yet claims to have invented the
system.



What's also of interest is that NCsoft has been singled out, but as of
yet no other U.S. MMOG publishers have been named as infringing on the
patent –
Was Sony Online Entertainment avoided at all costs because their MMOG
predates the patent filing date?  I hate to jump to any hasty
conclusions here, but this sounds like someone trying to make a money
grab based on someone else's, preexisting virtual world
designs. 



**UPDATE**



NCsoft could indeed just be the first of many MMOG publishers /
developers filed against, according to an update on the claim at href="http://www.virtualworldsnews.com/2008/12/worldscom-v-ncsoft-update.html">Virtual
Worlds News.  Representing Worlds.com in the case, href="http://www.ldlkm.com/index.asp">Lerner David
Littenberg Krumholz & Mentlik LLP explained that they
would soon begin contacting representatives throughout the industry.



Though no specifics were revealed as to why the infringement claim was
filed against NCsoft first, it could be simply a matter of geographical
location as was suggested by LDLKM's Stephen F. Roth.


"Being a foreign defendant in Texas is not a pleasant
thing," he said
of NCsoft, which is primarily a Korean company. "The juries are, many
would say, biased towards American plaintiffs and have a propensity to
offer high damages. Some defendants might view them as an unfriendly
jury and it might make the defendant more likely to settle."



While the patent in question may not have been filed until
2000,  Roth also explains that it's in fact continued on from
an earlier filing date, November 13, 1995.  Though not granted
until 2001, this href="http://www.google.com/patents?id=BYoGAAAAEBAJ&dq=6,219,045">initial
patent filing would actually predate NCsoft's
founding in 1997, but is notably unreferenced in the current
claim. 



It's likely that NCsoft won't be contacted until after the new year,
and once they are they'll have 20 days to respond to the
claim. 
What will happen from there though, is anyone's guess, but it's highly
likely that other companies will see similar claims filed in the near
future.  This has the potential to have a rippling effect
throughout not only
the MMOG industry, but for any form of 3d virtual world currently in
operation, from Second Life to Sony's Home on the PS3.



In the meantime, we'll be keeping a close watch on events and provide
updates as they unfold.





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About The Author

Reuben "Sardu" Waters has been writing professionally about the MMOG industry for eight years, and is the current Editor-in-Chief and Director of Development for Ten Ton Hammer.

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