If you build it, they will come. The tagline from Kevin Costner’s baseball film “Field of Dreams” seems appropriate to describe patent litigation. If the industry builds a successful product type, in this case, music-based rhythm games, then competitors will inevitably jockey for position. Patents, being a quintessential tool for protecting innovative market space, are a classic approach to this jockeying.
This jockeying took another step forward this week when Konami, makers of the upcoming Rock Revolution® musical group rhythm game, filed suit against Harmonix, makers of the popular Rock Band® musical group rhythm game, accusing Harmonix of infringing three of Konami’s patents.
Perhaps because Konami has already established itself in the general rhythm game space, with the popular Dance Dance Revolution® and Karaoke Revolution® series of games, Konami appears to have entered the musical group rhythm game space with patents in mind, filing early patent applications on its concepts, and the three in suit are directed to fairly straightforward elements of such games.
The first, U.S. Patent No. 6,390,923, is entitled “Music Playing Game Apparatus, Performance Guiding Image Display Method, and Readable Storage Medium Storing Performance Guiding Image Forming Program,” and generally appears (reading claim 10 of this patent) directed to dividing the game play screen into sections for different instruments, displaying instruction patterns for each instrument, and outputting a sound corresponding to operation of the instrument. Figure 15 from the ‘923 patent shows an example screen.
The second, U.S. Patent No. 6,425,822, is entitled “Music Game Machine with Selectable Controller Inputs,” and (from a short read of claim 1) appears directed to setting different difficulty modes by restricting the number of instrument buttons that will be used to play the game. The cover figure of the ‘822 patent shows an example of changing modes.
The third patent, U.S. Patent No. 6,645,067, is entitled “Music Staging Device Apparatus, Music Staging Game Method, and Readable Storage Medium,” and appears (from a quick read of claim 21) directed towards percussion instrument timing in the game, and to a method of providing players with real-time feedback regarding how well they are doing. The cover image from the ‘067 patent shows the drums and displayed feedback:
Of course, the lawsuit will have to resolve the details of the proper scope of these patents, and Harmonix will certainly seek to challenge the patents’ validity (the patents seem to be based on applications filed as early as 1998). Updates will follow as the case progresses. Formal interpretation of the patent will require a more thorough legal analysis of the patent and its history. The summaries here are just from my initial read.
NOTE: Formal interpretation of the patents will require a more thorough legal analysis of the patent and its history. The initial summaries here should not be construed as formal legal opinions of any kind. Copies of the patents in suit (6,390,923, 6,425,822, and 6,645,067) are available for free from the USPTO web site or from Google patent search.
Copy of the complaint: KonamiComplaint.pdf