In the business of video games, intellectual property is critical to success, and Patents, Copyrights, and Trademarks are the bricks with which your IP portfolio is built. The Patent Arcade is the web’s primary resource for video game IP law, news, cases, and commentary.

Is Fortnite’s Imposter Mode Kind of Sus?




The popular game maker Epic Games, Inc. (“Epic”) has continually tried to maintain the popular game Fortnite’s relevance through consistent updates, including concerts and new game modes. The Ariana Grande concert was largely successful, with 12.3 million viewers tuning in. Their new “Imposter Mode” is also looking successful, but not without controversy.

Some members of the team behind the popular game, Among Us, InnerSloth LLC (“InnerSloth”) have expressed displeasure with the new game mode, bringing up the similarities between Among Us and the game mode as well as the fact that they did not patent Among Us’s mechanics.

“We didn't patent the Among Us mechanics. I don't think that leads to a healthy game industry. Is it really that hard to put 10% more effort into putting your own spin on it though?” 

But even if they had sought a patent, it is unclear what elements of the game could be patent eligible in a way that would preclude Fortnite’s imposter mode. Mechanics included in the game such as several “secret” or “imposter” players who try to defeat a larger team are included in games such as Mafia/Werewolf, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, Trouble in Terrorist Town, Secret Hitler, Town of Salem, and Spyfall.

The holding in In Re: Marco Guldenaar Holding B.V. made it clear that broad game rules are not patent-eligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. Mechanics like some of the mini game tasks may be patent eligible, but would likely not stop a similar game such as Fortnite’s imposter mode because it features different minigames. So, even if InnerSloth had a patent on game mechanics for Among Us, it would still likely be possible to make similar games because it could not be so broad as to be enforceable against all lying games or social deduction games.

The first ever social deduction game (that we know of) was Mafia (also known as Werewolf), invented in 1986 by Dimitry Davidoff for psychological research and social deduction . The format is longstanding, meaning there is a lot of prior art making the patent landscape for such games difficult for broad enforcement as a plaintiff may desire. Even narrow concepts and refinements may be precluded by prior art or so narrow as to not secure much enforceability anyway.

But § 101 concerns aside, there’s likely another reason InnerSloth did not patent the mechanics of Among Us considering the way that the game became popular. Among Us blew up during the pandemic, two years after the game’s initial release. The initial release was not a massive success and it likely did not seem worth it to patent the game’s mechanics at the time. The huge popularity of the game (and the revenue!) exploded two years after the game’s initial release. But under 35 U.S.C. § 102, to be eligible patents cannot be disclosed to the public or on sale for over a year before filing for an application. Considering the game has been available since 2018, any game mechanics that were already present in the game would not be eligible for patenting in a new patent application since they have been on sale for more than a year.

The Among Us mechanics became known to the public more than two years ago, and any technical refinements the game made beyond the Mafia game genre are subject to the one year on sale bar of 35 U.S.C. § 102. If InnerSloth wants to claim infringement against Epic, or other suspiciously similar games like Goose Goose Duck or First Class Trouble, it seems like they will need to look to IP rights other than patents.

Thanks for reading! Check back here for future posts concerning game related lawsuits, patents, trademarks, and more!

U.S. Patent No. 10,930,044: Control system for virtual characters


Issued February 23, 2021, to Mursion Inc.
Filed: October 16, 2019 (claiming priority to November 6, 2015)



Overview:


U.S. Patent No. 10,930,044 (the ‘044 patent) relates to a control interface for virtual characters which allows a user to select facial expressions, poses, and behaviors of their virtual character. The ‘044 patent details a control system including a library of several facial expressions, poses, and behavior for the virtual character. The system displays a menu which provides a user a list of expressions and such stored in the library. The system receives an input from a user for one or more of a user-selected expressions, poses, or behaviors and an animation of the virtual character changing from the prior position to the selected position is displayed. The ‘044 patent can be used for live human-avatar interactions to allow users to emote through their virtual characters, and seems to be a precursor solution to Apple's later introduced (in 2017) animoji, which produces a similar result but using automatic facial recognition.



Abstract:


A control system provides an interface for virtual characters, or avatars, during live avatar-human interactions. A human interactor can select facial expressions, poses, and behaviors of the virtual character using an input device mapped to menus on a display device.


Illustrative Claim:



  1. A system for controlling a virtual character, comprising: one or more processors and a memory located at an interactor node, the memory including a stored library comprising a plurality of facial expressions, a plurality of poses, and a plurality of behaviors associated with the virtual character; and wherein the one or more processors are operable, via machine-readable instructions stored in the memory, to: display a menu on a first display device located at the interactor node, the menu configured to provide a listing of selections from one of the plurality of facial expressions, the plurality of poses, and the plurality of behaviors associated with the virtual character, receive from an input device at the interactor node one or more of a user-selected facial expression, a user-selected pose, and a user-selected behavior for the virtual character selected from the menu, provide an animation of movement of the virtual character from a prior position to a position exhibiting the one or more user-selected facial expression, user-selected pose, and user-selected behavior, and display on a second display device located at an end user node located remotely from the interactor node, the movement of the virtual character from the prior position to the position exhibiting the one or more user-selected facial expression, user-selected pose, and user-selected behavior.


Category: News
Comments: 0


Friend of the blog Tom Hamer, of European IP firm Kilburn & Strode, recently posted an article exploring patent filing trends at the EPO related to video game technologies.  He found that the EPO granted 245 video game patents in 2020 (up from 235 in 2019), and published 415 video game patents in 2020 (up 8% over 2019).  As part of the review, he identified three technology areas with upward trends:





  1. AR/VR controllers that incorporate cameras and light sensors.
  2. Management and protection of an online playerbase and community.
  3. Tech that facilitates esports and video game streaming.




These trends certainly align with what we’re seeing in US patent activity.  The full article includes several examples of interesting patents in each area.  You can read the article here.





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