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U.S. Patent 7,559,834: Dynamic join/exit of players during play of console-based video game
Issued July 14, 2009, to Microsoft


Summary:

The ‘834 patent allows for people to join in or leave a game without having to restart the current session. The patent is exemplified most notably in squad-based shooter games where player, while attempting to achieve objectives, come and go at their on their own free will. Under the patent, whenever a new player connects a controller to the game consol, the image on the screen is split so as to allow the new player access to the game with his own screen and point-of-view. Before the new player enters the game, a menu appears informing the players that a new player is about to join. Once the new player joins into the game, he is allowed to pick from any of the available characters in the game. Whenever a player wishes to leave the game, he can do so without a problem. The player exits the game, the other plays are informed of his departure, and the artificial intelligence takes back control of the player and the game resumes.

Abstract:

A squad-based shooter video game allows players to dynamically join and leave the game, while that game is in progress, without the players having to save and restart the game. When a new player joins an in-progress game, a new squad member is allocated to the new player and the screen is split to present a viewing panel for the new player that depicts scenes from the perspective of the new squad member. When an existing player leaves the game, the screen is unsplit to remove the viewing panel for the exiting player and that player's squad member becomes part of the squad being controlled by the remaining player(s).

Illustrative Claim:

1. A method implemented at least in part by a computing device comprising: facilitating play of a game played on the computing device, the computing device comprising a physical game console, by at least one existing player; detecting, by a processor of the physical game console, while the existing player is playing the game, a join condition indicating that a new player would like to join in playing the game, wherein the join condition is generated as a result of the new player connecting a game controller to the physical game console; upon the processor detecting the join condition, the processor automatically splitting an image displayed on a physical display to present multiple viewing panels such that the existing player views action through a first viewing panel and the new player views action through a second viewing panel; and the processor facilitating play of the game by the existing player and the new player.

Tomita Tech. USA, LLC et al. v. Nintendo Co., LTD et al.
Federal Circuit
Case No. 2014-1244
(non-precedential)
On appeal from S.D.N.Y., case no. 1:11-CV-04256


Back in 2011, Tomita sued Nintendo over U.S. Pat. No. 7,417,664, "Stereoscopic Image Picking Up and Display System Based Upon Optical Axes Cross-Point Information."  Tomita alleged that Nintendo's 3DS game system infringed the '664 patent with its stereoscopic 3D display system which provided glasses-free 3D images.

US Pat. No. 7,417,664, Figure 1
In the district court case, the jury  (1) found that Nintendo infringed claim 1 of the '664 patent, (2) found claim 1 of the '664 patent was not invalid, and (3) awarded damages to Tomita.  Nintendo appealed several issues to the Federal Circuit related to claim construction issues and other points from the trial.  The Federal Circuit reversed the district court's construction of the claim term "offset presetting means" and remanded for further consideration of whether the accused product infringed under a narrower construction.

The term "offset presetting means" uses the magic words "means for" followed by a function - "offsetting and displaying said different video images based upon said video image information...."  Thus, the term is properly interpreted as invoking 35 U.S.C. 112, 6th paragraph.  Accordingly, the term is to be read as covering the corresponding structure disclosed in the specification along with equivalents thereof.  

At trial, Tomita argued that this limitation should be construed as covering a "simple circuit" that implements this function.  Tomita's proposed construction cited Figures One, Two, Three, Four through Eight, and 18 different parts of the specification totaling over 200 lines.  The district court adopted Tomita's construction.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit noted that none of the descriptions of the Figures discussed any sort of "circuit," and that the portion Tomita relied on as providing a simple circuit as structure actually describes a very detailed structure.  Stripped of this detailed structure, the Federal Circuit argued, "Tomita's interpretation is no more specific than defining 'offset presetting means' in purely functional terms."  Op. at 9.  The Federal Circuit noted that Tomita's expert had testified that the corresponding descriptions for the figures showed the structure for the claims.  However, the Court noted that the absence of structure in the cited portions of the specification could not be cured by an expert's conclusory statements to the contrary.  Id.  

The Federal Circuit held that the corresponding structure for the "offset presetting means" was a timing control unit, a signal switch, a switch control unit, and a synthesis frame memory, and equivalents thereof.  Op. at 10.  The case was remanded to the district court to consider whether Nintendo's 3DS infringed under this construction.
Catching up on some reading from last week, Ars Technica (via Video Gamer Law) reports on a new lawsuit filed by the rights holder to Patton's name and likeness against Maximum Family Games for their game "History(R) Legends of War: Patton."  The complaint alleges that the use of General Patton's name, likeness, image, and persona without CMG Worldwide's (the rights holder) consent constitutes false endorsement and unfair competition under federal law, and a violation of the California right of publicity and unfair competition under California law.

Image taken from CMG's First Amended Complaint filed December 12, 2014
CMG sets forth several aspects of the game that it believes impose on its rights.  Generally, CMG alleges, the game features General Patton's famous image, likeness, and persona, in the context for which he is most famous - namely, as a a military general from World War II.  In one interesting part, the complaint notes that players earn "prestige" and "skill" points as the game progresses, and that this reinforces that Patton's own prestige and skill are a chief selling point of the game.

This case seems similar to Lindsay Lohan's case against Rockstar over Grand Theft Auto V and Manuel Noriega's case against Activision over Call of Duty: Black Ops II, which we previously reported on.  In the Noriega case, a California court dismissed the use as "transformative" and noted that authors should be allowed to utilize historical figures in their works. (more at Video Gamer Law).

The case is CMG Worldwide Inc. v. Maximum Family Games, LLC et al, Case No. 3:14-cv-05124, N.D. Cal. (San Fransisco), filed November 19, 2014.

We'll keep an eye on this case and report any interesting developments.


U.S. Patent No. 7,591,721: Video game that imposes penalty for violation of rule
Issued Sep. 22, 2009, to Square Enix


Summary:

The ‘721 patent describes a video game apparatus which allows a character to move between two predetermined locations. The invention also provides for a rule storage which stores a rule which is set in accordance with updated time units. Each character in the game is given a set of rules wither permitted actions. Whenever a player moves his character in an illegal way, the degree of the violation is determined and a predetermined penalty is imposed in accord with the stored history of violations.

Abstract:

A rule (applied to a battle) is set according to a stage of the progress of a game every time the stage of the game advances. When a battle is started, either a player character or an enemy character that can execute an action is determined. When it is decided that the player character can execute the action, a player selects the action of the player character. When the action selected by the player is against a rule, a rule violation is recorded. When the result of the action of the player character is also against a rule, a rule violation is recorded. When the rule violation is recorded, a predetermined penalty is imposed on the player after the battle ends.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A video game apparatus, comprising: a movement instruction input section that inputs an instruction to move a player character between predetermined locations to which the player character can move on a map; a movement section that moves the player character between the predetermined locations in accordance with the instruction to move the player character between the predetermined locations; a time lapse section that updates a time unit of a virtual concept in the video game when the player character is moved between the predetermined locations; a rule storage that stores a rule to be set in accordance with the updated time unit; a rule judge that determines, with reference to the stored rule, a rule applicable when the video game advances, and that updates the rule based on the updated time unit; an instruction input device that inputs an instruction to advance the video game; a rule violation determiner that determines whether the determined rule is violated based on the instruction to advance the video game, wherein the rule violation determiner determines the degree of the violation of the rule when the rule violation determiner determines that the determined rule is violated; an item storage that stores items provided to the player as the video game progresses, wherein the item storage stores the items given to the player by classifying the items into groups based on a value; a penalty processor that imposes a predetermined penalty when the determined rule is violated; wherein the penalty processor deletes a predetermined item stored in the item storage to impose the penalty, the deleted item selected from a group in accordance with the degree of the violation of the determined rule; and a violation history storage that stores a history of determined violations, wherein the penalty processor imposes the predetermined penalty based on the stored history of violations.

Ubisoft Entertainment, S.A., v. Guitar Apprentice, Inc.
3:14-CV-05202
Northern District of California
Filed November 24, 2014

In a new case, Ubisoft asserts U.S. Pat. No. 8,835,736 against Guitar Apprentice.  The '736 patent is generally directed to a video game that teaches a player how to play guitar.  Unlike Rock Band and Guitar Hero, the system of the '736 patent instructs the player to strum chords using the proper strings and frets.  Claim 14 is representative and recites:


According to the complaint, Guitar Apprentice makes a product called "Guitar Apprentice Rock Roots Edition."  The accused product is not an interactive video game.  Instead, it is an instructional DVD that guides the user to play along with a song:  

Image from "How to Play Guitar Apprentice!", https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vgfOtIeAeQ
The claims of the '736 patent do not appear to be limited to video games.  Instead, the independent claims recite entirely non-interactive features of displaying and "cueing."  Some dependent claims (e.g., "displaying a score of the player" in claim 3) recite more familiar features of interactive games.

Ubisoft and Guitar Apprentice are currently engaged in litigation over one of Guitar Apprentice's patents, U.S. Pat. No. 8,586,849, which is generally directed to a system for progressive instruction in playing a guitar.  See case no. 2-13-cv-02903 (W.D. Tenn., filed November 19, 2013).  Ubisoft recently filed a petition for Inter Partes Review with the USPTO regarding the '849 patent.  See IPR 2015-00298, filed November 25, 2014.

We will continue to watch this case for any interesting developments.
U.S. Patent No. 7,640,300: Presence and notification system for maintaining and communicating information
Issued Dec. 29, 2009, to Microsoft


Summary:

The ‘300 patent provides for a system to assist in the Xbox Live experience. The invention describes a method for grouping information for all users together to allow for easier access whenever a player is online. Anyone who has played Xbox Live knows that a user can search recent players and scan their information to learn more about them. The player also has the ability to send a friend request to these players, which will allow the user to invite them to play a game with greater ease. The system described here notifies users whenever a friend is online, sends a message to the user, or invites the user to a game. Finally, the invention allows a player to invite a friend (player two), and then player two to invite another friend (player three).

Abstract:

In accordance with one aspect, a client device is sent an indication of one or more types of information available for the client device. In response to the indication, a request is received from the client device to retrieve the information available for the client device. The information is identified and sent to the client device. In accordance with another aspect, one or more friends of the user are identified from persistent data, and a check made as to whether each of them is logged in to the system. For each of them that is logged in to the system, the user is subscribed to the friend's information and the friend is subscribed to the user's information. In accordance with another aspect, a user is allowed to be a friend of another user only if the other user is also a friend of the user.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A method, comprising: loading, by a computing device, when a first user logs in to a system, persistent data for the user from a profile store; identifying, by the computing device, from the persistent data, one or more friends of the first user, the persistent data including a list of second users that the first user never wants to be friends with; identifying, by the computing device, based on an identifier associated with the first user, which of a plurality of notification servers to load the persistent data to; establishing, by the computing device, at least one notification queue for the first user; checking, by the computing device, whether any information in the profile store is to be added to the at least one notification queue; adding, by the computing device, based on the checking, information to the at least one notification queue; facilitating, by the computing device, the first user in adding a third user to the list; receiving, by the computing device, a friend invitation from the third user; sending, by the computing device, to the third user a response message to the friend invitation without notifying the first user of receipt of the friend invitation and without notifying the first user of the response message, the response message indicating that the first user has rejected the friend invitation; checking, by the computing device, whether each of the one or more friends is logged in to the system; for each of the one or more friends that is logged in to the system, subscribing, by the computing device, the first user to the friend's information and subscribing each friend to the first user's information; facilitating, by the computing device, the first user in sending a friend invitation to one of the second users or the third user; and in response to sending the friend invitation, removing, by the computing device, the invited second user or third user from the list of second users that the first user never wants to be friend with.


U.S. Patent No. 7,618,322: Game system, storage medium storing game program, and game controlling method
Issued Nov. 17, 2009, to Nintendo


Summary:

The ‘322 patent describes a game with a controller with an operation surface that produces an audible percussive sound when subjected to a physical impact. The controller generates audible sounds in response to an elastic deformation of the striking surface. The sounds are generated whenever a player beats on the controller and the game process is changed depending on the volume (determined by how hard the strike is) value of the operation sound.

Abstract:

A game system includes a game apparatus, and the game apparatus is connected with a monitor and a percussion-type controller. When a game player beats a first beating operation surface or a second beating operation surface, first operation data is input from the controller to the game apparatus. Furthermore, when a microphone detects an operation sound generated at a time that a beating operation is performed, second operation data including volume data is input from the controller to the game apparatus. In the game apparatus, when a magnitude of the volume data is equal to or more than the predetermined threshold value, an ability value as to an action of the player object to be executed according to a command indicated by the first operation data is changed to execute the action.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A game system for displaying a game image including a player object operable by a player on a display apparatus, comprising: a controller device having an operation surface that produces an audible percussive sound when subjected to a physical impact, said controller also generating an operation data input signal in response to an elastic deformation of said surface by a physical impact; operation data detector programmed logic circuitry configured to detect one or more operation data input signals generated by said controller device in response to a beating of said operation surface of said controller device by said player; an audible sound detector that detects one or more audible percussive sounds produced by said beating upon the operation surface of the controller or by other audible percutient player actions; volume value determining programmed logic circuitry configured to determine a volume level value for an audible percussive sound detected by said sound detector; and game processing programmed logic circuitry configured to change a game process in response to an operation data input signal when both an operation data input signal and an audible percussive sound are detected as occurring together within a predetermined time period.


U.S. Patent No. 7,594,847: Squad command interface for console-based video game
Issued Sep. 29, 2009, to Microsoft


Summary:

The ‘847 patent provides for a squad-based game whereby the player can select characters and give commands which the computer characters will obey. The user interface contains character profiles of one or more of the multiple characters and icons associated with the character profiles that represent the current commands. The player uses the D-pad on his Xbox controller to pull up the command menu, and can then select a command which will be directed at the rest of the squad.

Abstract:

A squad command interface for a squad-based shooter video game maps character selection and command selection to actuators on a game controller. Players can select squad characters and issue a single order to multiple characters with few controller actuations.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A user interface for a squad-based shooter video game system executable by one or more processors of the video game system and displayable on a screen associated with the video game system, the user interface comprising: an indication, displayable on the screen, of current commands that are issued to individual characters of a squad of multiple characters; and an interface displayable on the screen, to enable a player to issue simultaneously a common command to a plurality of characters of the squad by actuating one or more actuators on a game controller pertaining to the video game system, wherein the plurality of characters is less than all of the multiple squad characters, and wherein the squad-based shooter video game is configured to enable the player to concurrently, with a single actuation of an individual actuator of the game controller, select the plurality of squad characters, the plurality being an integer greater than one and less than all of the multiple squad characters, and invoke a command change user interface displayable on the screen, and wherein at least a portion of the user interface is persistently visible on the screen during play of the game, and wherein said single actuation initiates display of the command change user interface on the screen in which at least a portion of the video game is viewable through the command change user interface, wherein the interface comprises: a first graphical user interface to enable player selection of the multiple squad characters; and a second graphical user interface comprising the command change user interface, wherein the second graphical user interface contains command icons of possible commands that can be issued by actuating at least one of the actuators, the command icons being arranged to map visually and spatially onto the at least one actuator.


U.S. Patent No. 7,637,817: Information processing device, game device, image generation method, and game image generation method
Issued Dec. 29, 2009, to Sega


Summary:

The ‘817 patent describes a method of playing a game with a gun-like controller which uses infrared light to accurately reflect the player’s movements by using detectable waves. The controller allows the player to move around in a three-dimensional world and have his movements accurately mapped out on the screen. Whenever a person locks the target onto an object, the screen will change to give the player the optimal view point.

Abstract:

Provided is technology enabling the generation of images of high realistic sensation upon accurately reflecting the operator's behavior. The information processing device has a controller to be used for inputting an operational instruction, and having a function of outputting a detectable wave to be used for detecting its own position and direction; a plurality of sensors for detecting the intensity of the detectable wave transmitted from the controller at mutually different positions; a position/direction calculation unit for calculating the position and direction of the controller in a real space based on the ratio of the intensity of the detectable wave detected with each of the plurality of sensors; an image generation unit for generating an image reflecting the operational instruction input with the controller, and the position and direction of the controller calculated with the position/direction calculation unit; and a display unit for displaying the image generated with the image generation unit.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A simulation apparatus, comprising: an information processing device; a monitor display connected to said information processing device; operational means connected to said information processing device, configured to be operable by a player and having radiation means which radiates a detectable wave expanding toward said monitor display; and a plurality of detection means disposed at mutually different positions along peripheries of said monitor display, each of said detection means being configured to detect intensity components of said detectable wave in three-dimensional directions; wherein said information processing device comprises calculation means which calculates positional coordinates of said operational means in a real space in front of said monitor display and an aiming direction of said operational means based on ratios of the intensity components of said detectable wave detected by said plurality of detection means at said different positions, wherein said information processing device is configured to: (a) calculate a scene including a first object and a second object in a virtual three-dimensional space; (b) display on the monitor display the scene viewed from a virtual viewpoint wherein said first object is located behind said second object when viewed from said virtual viewpoint in the virtual three-dimensional space; (c) convert, while the virtual viewpoint remains as set in (b), the calculated positional coordinates and the calculated aiming direction of said operational means in the real space into positional coordinates and an aiming direction in the virtual three-dimensional space so that a position of a virtual shooting point aiming at said first object along the aiming direction is set off the virtual viewpoint, which is set at the location as in (b), in the virtual three-dimensional space; and (d) determine if the converted aiming direction extending from said shooting point hits said first object.

U.S. Patent No. 7,621,813: Ubiquitous unified player tracking system
Issued Nov. 24, 2009, to Microsoft


Summary:

The ‘813 patent provides for the use of a single-name for people who wish to play online games. In Microsoft’s case, this invention applies to what we know as Gamertags, which are personalized names picked by a user whenever he registers for Xbox Live. This gamertag becomes the player’s own personal identification name, and allows other players to recognize him whenever he is online. The invention allows a player’s information to be stored under the gamertag, including all accomplishments, stats, and awards achieved during a game. The player also has the ability to have his accomplishments (such as unlocking an achievement while playing an Xbox game) tracked when he is offline. Whenever a player logs back onto Xbox Live, the accomplishments achieved when offline are uploaded to the player’s account and can be viewed and tracked by his online friends.

Abstract:

Systems and method for providing a single sign in a gaming console that associates online activity that is out-of-game/cross game, and/or online activity that is in-game, and/or activity that is offline and in-game with that account. While online, a service tracks activity of gamers and provides usage statistics in a profile. While offline, the game console tracks the player's activity via a mechanism to collect detailed information about a specific player's in-game statistics and accomplishments. The offline activity is cached and uploaded when the console connects to the online service. Players can accumulate achievements offline that are credited towards online activities.

Illustrative Claim:

1. In a gaming console, a method of providing a unique player identity, said method comprising: receiving a credential, at the gaming console, associated with a profile for a user; validating the credential; executing a videogame while the gaming console is offline, executing including executing a play of the videogame only on the gaming console; determining that an achievement associated with the videogame has been earned during the play of the videogame; caching offline user activity, at the gaming console, the offline user activity occurring during the play of the videogame; and transmitting, from the gaming console, when the gaming console is online subsequent to the play of the videogame, a signal indicative of earning the achievement to a service provider configured to publish the profile for the user in an interactive guide accessible to remote user devices, wherein the profile includes a username, a picture chosen by the user, videogame statistics accumulated while playing videogames, information indicative of affiliations of the user, and videogame achievements earned while playing videogames.

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