I don’t normally post non-legal content, but this one is a good resource for budding video game designers: 70+ Open Courseware Links for Game Designers and Developers. Most of the resources appear to be links to MITs open course program, or other universities with similar offerings, but this is the first compilation of all such resources that I have seen in one place. Topics include Game Development, Arts & Media Studies, Theory & Thinking, Analysis, Storytelling, Interaction & Decisionmaking, Probability, Design, Programming & Tools, Practical Skills, Game Genres & Uses, and Issues. If anyone is looking to brush up on skills, this looks like a great place to start. When you build your game and need legal advice, give me a call. Good luck!
–In what is considered the first event of its kind, Santa Clara University School of Law is holding an open house in the virtual world of Second Life on Jan. 22.
Visitors to Second Life, an Internet-based universe where real-life users assign themselves as cartoon characters and go to virtual, animated locations, will travel virtually to Santa Clara Island to see the school.
The event is designed to attract potential students and emphasize the law school’s close ties with the technology industry in the Silicon Valley area of California.
“We need to meet prospective law students where they are, and more and more, we find potential law students on various online arenas, including virtual worlds,” said Julia Yaffee, senior assistant dean of external relations, in a press release.
Hosting the two-hour event that begins at 6 p.m. West Coast time is Jeanette Leach, dean of admissions. She will attend as her own self-created avatar character, Penny Canucci. Second Life residents — who total 15 million — can tour the school and see a video of Dean Donald Polden as himself, not an avatar. Visitors also can ask admissions staff questions and get information about applying to the school.–
Kudos to Santa Clara Law School for this unique event. I’ll probably stop by and check it out, too, so be on the lookout for my avatar (Aviator Kidd).
I just wanted to take a minute and let everyone know that I will be speaking at GDC 2009 (March 25-27, 2009) this year. I’m not sure which day my presentation will be, but I will be presenting patent lawsuit case studies that are relevant to the video game industry. Let me know if you’ll be in SF for GDC in March. I’d love to meet more of the people who have responded to my posts. See you there!
You know, I’ve been waiting for over a year since I first heard about Guitar Rising, a Guitar Hero style video game that you can play with a REAL guitar. It seems to be the holy grail of interactivity–if you win the game, you have ACTUAL SKILLS you can use in real life to play an instrument. But it never seems to come to fruition. As of this morning, Guitar Rising’s web site still hasn’t changed or been updated to give us any glimmer of hope that a release is forthcoming.
Well it seems someone has now beaten them to the punch: Disney. Yes, THAT Disney. Disney’s Guitar Star will be directed towards tweens at first, but if you can really play it with any guitar, then I might just pick up a copy myself and plug in my own axe. The software with a bundled 3/4 length guitar will be about $200, and available starting summer ’09, but at least its a start!
Now I DO wonder what Gibson thinks about this, in view of their patent portfolio that they are asserting against Activision and the court’s recent claim construction in that case…
Either way, Disney has the money to take a license or defend a lawsuit, so hopefully this product will actually see the light of day!
The Patent Arcade is sad to report that we have lost one of our own. Steve Davidson, a friend, colleague, and groundbreaking attorney in the video game and virtual world fields, passed away unexpectedly this morning, December 2, 2008. Steve completed 35 years as an attorney at Leonard, Street and Deinard law firm where he was a pioneer of technology law, speaker at law conferences around the world and arbitrator and mediator for intellectual property disputes. He was a past president of the International Technology Law Association and an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota Law School. Steve and I worked together on the American Bar Association’s Special Committee for Computer Gaming and Virtual Worlds, and we valued highly his insight, suggestions, leadership, and support.
Funeral service THURSDAY (12/4/08) at 1 PM, BETH EL SYNAGOGUE, 5224 W. 26th St., St. Louis Park. In lieu of flowers, memorials are preferred to Sholom Home Auxiliary or donor’s choice. SHIVA at the family residence Thursday evening at 7 PM. Hodroff-Epstein 612 871-1234.
Our thoughts go out to Steve’s family. He will be missed by us all.
Its not every day that we get to report TRADEMARK news, so this is a refreshing change from the norm. On Nov. 11, 2008, the United States Patent & Trademark Office granted what is believed to be the first trademark registration for a user’s avatar as an indication of the source of goods & services. Registration number 3,531,683 is for Computer programming services, namely, content creation for virtual worlds and three dimensional platforms. The interesting part, however, is the mark itself (pictured at left), which is an actual avatar in the virtual world of Second Life. The mark was registered on the Principal Register, meaning that the mark inherently has secondary meaning as a source of origin of goods and/or services (i.e., the mark is not generic or descriptive). The description of the mark reads: “The color(s) black, white, green, peach and blue is/are claimed as a feature of the mark. The color blue appears in the wings and the hair accessories. The color green appears in the shirt and skirt. The color black appears in the hair, eyes, eyebrows, lips, glasses, necklace, bra, waistband, in the striped pattern on the arms and stockings, as well as the toe and calf areas of the boots. All the elements of the drawing are also outlined in black. The color white appears in the eyes, the striped pattern on the arms and legs, as highlights on the black toes of the boots, on the front of the boots, and in the laces. The color peach appears in the skin.”
As the boundary between virtual world and real world continues to blur, trademark owners are now more likely than ever to consider enforcing trademark rights across real/virtual world boundaries. It’s also nice that the USPTO considers use of a trademark in a virtual world to be a use in interstate commerce (a requirement for obtaining a federal trademark registration, because federal trademark rights originate under the commerce clause of the United States Constitution).
Score 1 for virtual world IP rights.
The stories just keep on flowing. Who knew that divorce could lead to a virtual killing, and subsequent arrest for hacking? Read the story here. In short, a 43-year-old Japanese woman killed her online husband’s digital persona because she was so angry that his avatar “divorced” her avatar in the online game Maple Story. The woman obtained the man’s login credentials while their avatars were happily “married,” and she allegedly logged in with his credentials and killed off his avatar after learning of the virtual “divorce.” She has been arrested on suspicion of hacking (i.e., logging in to a computer system without authorization).
From the AP wire:
October 21, 2008. AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – A Dutch court has convicted two youths of theft for stealing virtual items in a computer game and sentenced them to community service.Only a handful of such cases have been heard in the world, and they have reached varying conclusions about the legal status of “virtual goods.”The Leeuwarden District Court says the culprits, 15 and 14 years old, coerced a 13-year-old boy into transferring a “virtual amulet and a virtual mask” from the online adventure game RuneScape to their game accounts.”These virtual goods are goods (under Dutch law), so this is theft,” the court said Tuesday in a summary of its ruling.Identities of the minors were not released.The 15-year-old was sentenced to 200 hours service, and the 14-year-old to 160 hours.
Villian… I suspect.
Its not every day that we see a video game embrace an attorney as a central character. Normally the attorneys are the ridicule of the game, but one game did just that: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. Hollywood, on the other hand, embraces the legal profession almost all too often, whether for ridicule, storytelling, murder, suspense, education, or just plain fun. What Hollywood doesn’t do too often is highlight the role that patents play in our society, so it is with some interest that I am awaiting a new film starring Greg Kinnear, Flash of Genius, that tells the story of Robert Kearns’ (Kinnear) fight against the auto industry after Mr. Kearns invented the intermittent windshield wiper. I’ve spoken with people involved on behalf of the auto industry, and suffice it to say that their side of the story comes across as markedly different than I suspect Mr. Kearns’ side of it is portrayed in the movie. Nonetheless, it’s nice to see Hollywood depicting patent attorneys in film, even if we are most likely the “bad guys” in the movie. Here is some more info from the film’s marketing folks. Go and check it out for yourself:
————————————————- Synopsis: Based on the true story of college professor and part-time inventor Robert Kearns’s (Greg Kinnear) long battle with the U.S. automobile industry, Flash of Genius tells the tale of one man whose fight to receive recognition for his ingenuity would come at a heavy price. But this determined engineer refused to be silenced, and he took on the corporate titans in a battle that nobody thought he could win. The Kearns were a typical 1960s Detroit family, trying to live their version of the American Dream. Local university professor Bob married teacher Phyllis (Lauren Graham) and, by their mid-thirties, had six kids who brought them a hectic but satisfying Midwestern existence. When Bob invents a device that would eventually be used by every car in the world, the Kearns think they have struck gold. But their aspirations are dashed after the auto giants who embraced Bob’s creation unceremoniously shunned the man who invented it. Ignored, threatened and then buried in years of litigation, Bob is haunted by what was done to his family and their future. He becomes a man obsessed with justice and the conviction that his life’s work — or for that matter, anyone’s work — be acknowledged by those who stood to benefit. And while paying the toll for refusing to compromise his dignity, this everyday David will try the unthinkable: to bring Goliath to his knees. ————————————————- Official Trailer in Mobile, HD, Quicktime and Windows ————————————————- Official One-sheet ————————————————-
Now the only question that remains is this: How do they turn this movie into a video game???
Banner & Witcoff Secures Favorable Settlement for Client Regarding Intellectual Property and Land Dispute in Second Life (Washington, D.C., July 22, 2008) – Banner & Witcoff Ltd., one of the largest law firms in the United States dedicated solely to the practice of intellectual property law, is pleased to announce they have secured a favorable settlement on behalf of its client regarding a dispute in Second Life regarding ownership of regions of virtual land, and associated intellectual property. Second Life is an online virtual world, owned by Linden Research, Inc., and created by its millions of residents around the world. The land in dispute is Sailor’s Cove, a collection of twenty-one regions (private islands) within the virtual world of Second Life. Sailor’s Cove was developed by three parties and designed as a waterfront community that allows avatars to purchase land, participate in virtual yachting and sailing events, and become active in the community of residents of Sailor’s Cove. The property and ownership dispute was between Patrick Leavitt, owner of record of Sailor’s Cove with Linden Research, Inc., and Izabella Bentham and Tasha Kostolany. While not owners of record with Linden Research, Inc., Bentham and Kostolany were each publicly acknowledged within Sailor’s Cove as “Owner and Sailor’s Cove Partner,” and were instrumental in the development and success of Sailor’s Cove. Patrick Leavitt had subsequently asserted sole ownership of Sailor’s Cove. Ross A. Dannenberg, partner at Banner & Witcoff, represented Bentham and Kostolany. Dannenberg successfully avoided litigation and secured financial compensation for Bentham’s and Kostolany’s contributions to Sailor’s Cove. Dannenberg states “while Second Life may be a virtual world, the intellectual property is real, the contracts are real, and residents are still subject to real world laws.” Dannenberg is one of several attorneys at Banner & Witcoff that specializes in protecting intellectual property rights for clients in the video game, virtual world, and computer industries. Collectively, Banner & Witcoff attorneys have decades of experience counseling clients and litigating cases involving computers, video gaming and virtual worlds, and electronic arts. Please visit our website at www.bannerwitcoff.com for more information regarding Ross Dannenberg and Banner & Witcoff. *Please note: to protect individual privacy, all parties involved in the case are referred to by their Second Life avatar name, except Ross Dannenberg (SL avatar: Aviator Kidd).
Please direct all media inquires to Colleen Strasser at email@example.com or 312.463.5465 About Banner & Witcoff, Ltd. Banner & Witcoff, Ltd. is dedicated to excellence in the specialized practice of intellectual property law, including patent, trademark, copyright, trade secret, computer, franchise and unfair competition law. The firm actively engages in the procurement, enforcement and litigation of intellectual property rights throughout the world, including all federal and state agencies, and the distribution of such rights through licensing and franchising. The firm has over 90 attorneys and agents in its Chicago, Washington, DC, Boston and Portland, OR offices. Please note, the facts of every case are different. Prior results don’t guarantee future success.
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
So this blog tracks video game IP law updates, but here is a morsel that I just had to comment on: Sandra Day O’Connor (yes, THE Sandra Day O’Connor, i.e., the first woman ever appointed to the United States Supreme Court) is collaborating with Parsons The New School For Design on an online, interactive civic education project for seventh- and eighth-graders, and recently gave a presentation on the topic at the Games for Change conference (hosted at Parsons).
O’Connor said that the No Child Left Behind act of 2001 has “effectively squeezed out civics education” from public schools. “We can’t forget that the primary purpose of public schools in America is to produce citizens who have the skills and knowledge to sustain our form of government,” she said. “Public education is the only longterm solution to preserving an independent judiciary and constitutional democracy.” That’s why, O’Connor said, she wanted to work alongside James Paul Gee (a prof at UW-Madison) to create Our Courts, which will begin rolling out in September 2009.Read more here, at Wired.com.
Disney has announced that its Virtual Magic Kingdom will close May 21, 2008,… for good. The VMK is no longer accepting new users, either. Disney’s VMK was launched in 2005 as a promotional tool, and turned out to be much more. About 15,000 people per day still log in and, chat, play, and explore in the VMK. The news has come as quite a shock to some, and over 10,000 people have even signed a petition asking Disney to keep it open. The shuttering of VMK, and the public response, demonstrate that even though virtual worlds and MMOGs are governed by end-user license agreements (EULAs) or Terms of Service (ToS), players inherently create a vested interest in the game, irrespective of the contractual nature of the player-provider relationship. Players make friends, create bonds, develop groups, and in some sense even come to rely on the virtual world being there the next day. So for those trying to get Disney to keep it open, I wish you luck. And when it comes to the Mouse, you’ll need it!
IBM said today that it would become the first company to host private regions of the virtual world Second Life on its own computer servers.
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The project is in testing and will go live within several weeks. This appears to be part of “the Grid,” which marks a new focus by Second Life’s parent company, Linden Lab, on providing software and services to corporate customers who want to use the virtual world for collaboration and teleconferencing with more assurances of privacy and security than is offered by Linden Labs.
As Second Life matures, they are taking some fairly customary steps, one of which is to take a more proactive role to protect their own intellectual property. In this vein, Linden Labs has created the Second Life Brand Center, which details the proper and improper use of Linden Labs trademarks. In addition, Linden Labs has created the “inSL” mark for users to use under certain conditions to signify their presence in Second Life. The Brand Center is online here.
Ok, “saves lives” may be a bit of an exaggeration, but what is true is that a North Carolina man assisted passengers from an SUV he saw flip on a highway, using skills he learned playing America’s Army. Paxton Galvanek, who pulled people from vehicle after it flipped, said he learned about controlling bleeding from playing section two of the “medic” class training in America’s Army, a game developed by the Army as a recruitment tool.
The trend continues, and MMOGs are getting even more popular. Here are a couple recent articles that you might find of interest:
From WIRED, this article discusses three new MMOGs being released in 2008 that have potential to be huge.
From the NY Times, this article discusses the popularity of MMOGs among kids.
As reported by Virtually Blind, Shanda, developer of MMORPG The World of Legend, has been ordered to pay 5,000 Yuan (US $679) and apologize to a gamer for taking away his virtual tools, reports Pacific Epoch. The gamer discovered six virtual items worth more than 1,500 Yuan (US $204) missing from his game account on November 22, 2006 (perhaps the Sword of 1,000 Truths), and contacted Shanda regarding the disappearance. Shanda said that the company had taken the items in accordance with a police investigation regarding the sale of stolen virtual items. But Shanda failed to follow police instruction and return the items after the investigation ended.
Lonestar Inventions LP v. Nintendo of America Inc., case no. 6:07-cv-00261 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.
This lawsuit between patent-holding company Lonestar Inventions LP and gaming conglomerate Nintendo Inc. will play out in mediation after a federal judge ordered the two companies to try their case before a mediator on Thursday, Dec, 13, 2007. Texas-based Lonestar first sued Nintendo in June, alleging that the company’s popular Wii video game console infringed on a patent titled “High capacitance structure in a semiconductor device.”
Sorry I’ve been radio silent for a while. Life has been busy, you know how it goes…
In any event, it appears that Cory Ondrejka, employee No. 4 at San Francisco-based Linden Lab, which owns Second Life, quit Tuesday and will depart at the end of the year. Ondrejka spearheaded the company’s decision to allow users to retain intellectual property rights to their creations. That’s encouraged a thriving e-commerce market where users spend real dollars to buy virtual real estate, clothes, cars and other items. So it will be interesting to see where the company goes next.