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U.S. Patent No. 7,497,776: Multiplayer game mode with predator feature
Issued March 3, 2009, to Microsoft


Summary:

The ‘776 patent provides a new multiplayer feature for the user. One of the users has a car different from the others (for example, player 1 can be a cop car while the other players are sports cars). All the cars are designed, when playing this mode, to have the same features so that no car has an unfair speed advantage over the other cars. The user who starts as a different cop is the ‘predator’ whose goal is to catch the other players (the prey). A prey is caught whenever his car is run into by a predator, which then turns the prey into another predator to help hunt the remaining prey. The last player to remain as prey is the winner.

Abstract:

Methods and systems for administering and playing a multi-player computer game are disclosed. During the multi-player computer game, players are either identified as a predator or as prey. The predator players attempt to catch the prey, and the prey-players attempt to evade the predator(s). When a prey is caught, the caught prey becomes an additional predator. During game play, predator players' display screens may display a directional arrow indicating the direction of the closest prey, and may also display a map indicating a position of each remaining prey. Predators may be displayed on each participants display screen with a first graphically depicted appearance (e.g., a police car), while prey may be depicted having a second graphically depicted appearance (e.g., a sports car). The game ends when no prey remain, and the last caught prey is the winner.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A computer-implemented method for playing a multiplayer computer game comprising an automobile driving simulation, comprising steps of: a computer identifying at least one player on a first team and a plurality of players on a second team, each player corresponding to a different automobile in a graphically depicted simulated driving environment in which the multiplayer computer game is played, wherein the at least one player on the first team has at least a first corresponding automobile with a first graphically depicted appearance and all of the players on the second team have automobiles that are graphically distinguished from the at least first corresponding automobile, and wherein each automobile of the at least one player on the first team is given enhanced capabilities so as to always have at least a same speed and capabilities as a fastest and strongest automobile corresponding to all of the plurality of players on the second team and regardless of any type of automobile that is being driven by the at least one player on the first team; initiating game play, during which each player on the first team tries to catch any player on the second team in the graphically depicted simulated driving environment, wherein a player on the second team is caught when a player on the first team drives the at least first corresponding automobile into an automobile that corresponds to the player on the second team; when any player on the first team catches any player on the second team by driving the at least first automobile into the automobile corresponding to the player on the second team, reassigning the caught second team player to the first team by at least changing an appearance attribute of the automobile corresponding to the caught second team player to reflect that the second team player is assigned to the first team and such that the automobile corresponding to the caught second team player has a changed graphically depicted appearance that is graphically similar to the first graphically depicted appearance of the at least first corresponding automobile; and ending game play when a predetermined event occurs.

White Knuckle IP, LLC v. Electronic Arts, Inc.
US District Court for the District of Utah
1:15-cv-00014
Filed January 16, 2015

In a new case, plaintiff White Knuckle IP accuses Electronic Arts of infringing U.S. Pat. No. 8,529,350 entitled "Method and System for Increased Realism in Video Games."  The '350 patent, dating back to October 2002, describes a method for updating sports video games based on real-life events during a season.  According to the disclosure, prior art games were fixed as of the day they were released, and a player's outstanding performance or a major trade during the season would not be reflected until the next version of the game was released.  The system described in the '350 patent solves this problem by downloading updates to game attributes that are based on real-life changes in players, teams, and venues.

US Pat. No. 8,529,350, Fig. 1


The '350 patent is a divisional application related to U.S. Pat. No. 8,540,575 (not raised in this suit).  The '575 patent's claims are directed to updating a real-life player's statistics and attributes based on his performance during a real-life season.  The claims of the '350 patent in this suit are directed to updating the appearance and attributes of the virtual venues, stadiums, and arenas based on changes to their real-life counterparts.  One example in the '350 patent is updating the appearance of Wrigley Field based on the growth of the ivy in the outfield.

The ivy at Wrigley Field.  Image courtesy Wikipedia.*
The claims recite a method of downloading an updated attribute and modifying the appearance of the virtual venue to such that it "more closely represents the changed real-life stadium or field attribute."  See '350 patent claim 1.  While a reader may generally understand this concept, such relative and subjective language is generally frowned upon and may be invalid as indefinite under 35 U.S.C. 112.  One issue may be whether one of ordinary skill in the art would know with certainty what it means to "more closely represent[] the changed real-life stadium."

The accused products include EA's NCAA Football 10-14 and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10-14.  Based on our experience with NCAA Football, the accused features might include stadium updates based on the real-life bowl game schedules.  However, White Knuckle did not identify any specific feature in its complaint.

The problem addressed in the '350 patent seems to stem from the generally offline nature of consoles circa 2002.  As a result, console games were rarely updated as there was no good way to supply the update.  However, PC games have been receiving updates in the form of balance patches and bug fixes since well before 2002.  One issue in this case may be whether it would have been obvious to include updates based on real-life changes in a patch for a sports game on PC, and whether that would fall within the scope of the claims and potentially render the claims invalid.

We'll continue to watch this case for any interesting developments.

* "Wrigley Field 400 foot sign" by flickr user jimcchou - http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimchou/246066558/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wrigley_Field_400_foot_sign.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Wrigley_Field_400_foot_sign.jpg

U.S. Patent No. 7,090,576: Personalized behavior of computer controlled avatars in a virtual reality environment
Issued Aug. 15, 2006, to Microsoft



Summary:

The ‘576 patent describes a racing video game which offers enhanced computer AI to give the computer-controlled cars a more “human” feel to them. The game records a player’s movements during training and then applies samplings from this behavior to the computer-controlled cars during game play. Thus, instead of acting solely as a computer (with quicker, more perfect reaction times than a human), the computer-controlled cars act with the same reaction times and in the same manner as the human players. This invention allows a player to enjoy playing the computer as much as he does when he plays another human.

Abstract:

Racing-based computer games typically include a mode in which one or more human players can compete against one or more computer-controlled opponents. For example, a human player may drive a virtual race car against a computer-controlled virtual race car purported to be driven by Mario Andretti or some other race car driver. Such computer controlled opponents may be enhanced by including a sampling of actual game behavior of a human subject into the opponent's artificial intelligence control system. Such a sampling can allow the game system to personalize the behavior of the computer control opponent to emulate the human subject.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A method comprising: computing an avatar behavior definition based on environmental context of a virtual reality environment and a randomly selected training behavior from a training set of personalized sample behaviors; and generating at least one control signal to guide behavior of an entity in the virtual reality environment in accordance with the avatar behavior definition.

Summary:
While the ‘668 patent does not cover video game systems or hardware, it does rely on access to a video game controller and aim to limit access to game consoles. The patent describes a device that only allows a game console or television to be turned on if a user uses a handheld controller to correctly answer one or more educational questions.


Abstract:
The invention generally relates to a lock-box device that requires a child or any other user to answer one or more educational questions correctly before being allowed access to one or more entertainment systems that require power such as a television, a computer, and a video game console.


Illustrative Claim:
1. A device for controlling access to and use of a video game console, comprising:
a tamper-resistant housing including a lock mechanism;
a power outlet disposed within the housing and for receiving and electrically connecting to a power plug at the end of a power cord of the video game console, the lock mechanism operable to lock the power plug within the housing after the power plug is inserted into the power outlet;
a device power cord extending from and external to the housing and terminating in a device power plug for insertion into an electrical outlet;
one or more connectors accessible external to the housing to allow a display to be connected to the device;
one or more other connectors accessible external to the housing to allow at least one handheld controller unit of the video game console to be connected to the device; and
a logic and control system disposed within the housing and for supplying images to be shown on the display to a potential user of the video game console, the images including educational content in the form of one or more questions in one or more educational subject matter areas, the logic and control system also for allowing responses to the one or more questions by the potential user, the at least one handheld controller unit of the video game console for use by the potential user to provide the responses to the one or more questions, the logic and control system also for controlling the supply of power to the power outlet based on the responses to the one or more questions, the logic and control system configured to not supply power to the power outlet unless the responses to the one or more questions are acceptable.
Gamecaster, Inc. v. Dreamworks Animation SKG, Inc.
Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
Case No. 2014-1380
January 8, 2015

The Federal Circuit affirmed a finding by the USPTO during an inter partes re-examination that Gamecaster's patent on a physical control device for a virtual camera was invalid.

Gamecaster filed U.S. Pat. No. 7,403,220 in July 2005.  The '220 patent is generally directed to a video camera device that allows a camera operator to control a virtual camera in a virtual environment.


Gamecaster's GCS3 virtual cinematography system
(http://www.gamecaster.com/news/GCS3-Revolutionary-Virtual-Camera-Control-)



Gamecaster sued Dreamworks in April 2009 for infringement of the '220 patent.  See Gamecaster, Inc. v. Dreamworks Animation SKG, Inc., Case No. 2-09-cv-02723 (CACD 2009).  Dreamworks filed a request for re-examination in August of 2009, which was instituted by the USPTO.  The Examiner agreed with Dreamworks that the claims were anticipated by each of 7 different references, as well as obvious over two references - Paley, "Interaction in 3d Graphics: Designing Special Purpose Input Devices" and Vincent, US Pat. No. 7,050,102.

Gamecaster appealed the obviousness rejection to the PTAB, and the PTAB affirmed the examiner's findings of invalidity (the PTAB did not address the anticipation rejections as it found the obviousness rejection adequate).  On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed the PTAB's decision without further comment.

Paley's "Cyclops"
The device described in the Paley reference, at first glance, appears strikingly similar to that disclosed in the '220 patent.
It’s a simple concept: take a standard fluid-head tripod and instrument it, then mount a flat-panel display on the tripod where the camera would normally go. Now feed the tilt and pan angles into the animation program, while simultaneously displaying a real-time preview of the animation. Voila! You’ve brought camera control back out into the real world....
Second, we're using the past again. Not only as inspiration this time, but directly. What we get is a device that's completely intuitive to use, and one that taps into years of experience that a cinematographer may have acquired on the somatic level. We're using the interaction of cinematographer's eye and visual sense (where the artist is), muscle-memory of the arm and hand (where the training is) and the grip and fluid-damped head of the tripod.
The Vincent reference was relied on to teach the use of gyroscopes and accelerometers in cameras.

One interesting issue in this case was that Paley described a video camera control for use in virtual worlds, while Vincent described a traditional video camera for use in the real world.  Gamecaster argued on appeal to the PTAB and in its appeal to the Federal Circuit that the two references were directed to wholly different applications (physical world versus virtual worlds).  However, the examiner found that the use of Vincent's gyroscopes and accelerometers was nothing more than combining familiar elements according to known methods to yield predictable results, and the board affirmed this finding.  See Appeal No. 2013-000375 at 8 (PTAB 2013).  A significant portion of Gamecaster's arguments at the Federal Circuit centered on whether the references could be combined based on this, but the Federal Circuit was not convinced and affirmed the PTAB without any comments in its opinion.

This case provides an interesting example of the crossover between real world and virtual world concepts.  Vincent illustrated that it was known at the time of invention to use accelerometers in optical video cameras to control the movement of the camera.  As found by the courts and the USPTO in this case, it would have been obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art to adapt these features for use in controlling a virtual camera.  This opinion illustrates that, in some cases, it may be obvious to adapt real world techniques for use in virtual environments and that real-world techniques may serve as prior art against virtual techniques.

U.S. Patent No. 6,454,652: Video Game System and Method with Enhanced Three-Dimensional Character and Background Control Due to Environmental Conditions
Issued September 24, 2002, to Nintendo Co. Ltd.


Summary:

The ‘652 patent details a video game system which permits game play involving three-dimensional images to have a depth and realism that exceeds previous known game systems. This video game feature, exemplified by Super Mario 64, features unique player controls which permits control over a character’s exploration of the three-dimensional world. Before, when a level was completed, the player would be forced along the controlled path to the next object, but with this patent came the ability to continue to explore the worlds the player had completed in order to collect all stars, coins, etc. before moving on at his liking. In the case of Super Mario 64, whenever a player would go into a room in Bowser’s castle, he was free to jump through any portrait on the wall and explore any world he wanted, as many times as he wanted, in whatever order he wanted. It was a pretty novel idea for an ordinary plumber.

Abstract:

A video game system includes a game cartridge which is pluggably attached to a main console having a main processor, a 3D graphics generating coprocessor, expandable main memory and player controllers. A multifunctional peripheral processing subsystem external to the game microprocessor and coprocessor is described which executes commands for handling player controller input/output to thereby lessen the processing burden on the graphics processing subsystem. The video game methodology involves game level organization features, camera perspective or point of view control features, and a wide array of animation and character control features. The system changes the "camera" angle (i.e., the displayed point of view in the three-dimensional world) automatically based upon various conditions and in response to actuation of a plurality of distinct controller keys/buttons/switches.

Illustrative Claim:

1. For use with a video game system console having a game program executing processing system to execute said video game program and at least one player controller operable by a player to generate video game control signals; a portable storage device for controlling the operation of said video game system console comprising: a memory medium for storing video game instructions and graphics data; accessing circuitry for coupling said video game instructions and said graphics data retrieved from said memory medium to said video game system console; said video game instructions including instructions for causing said video game executing processing system to generate digital representations of a plurality of different three dimensional courses within which a player controlled character may enter and achieve goals, and for generating a pause screen in response to a particular player input; wherein said pause screen includes an option for enabling the player to exit the course only if the pause screen was selected by the player when the player controlled character was not moving.


U.S. Patent No. 7,500,916: Game strategy analysis tool generating a two dimensional image overlaid with telemetry data
Issued March 10, 2009, to Microsoft


Summary:

The ‘916 patent describes a computing network where, while one or more players play online, computer-readable media storage units collect telemetry data while the game is being played. The units then analyze this data and view location information of players throughout the game. Once the game is complete, all of the different player’s data is combined into one file to reduce redundancy. One reason behind this telemetry data collection is so that less skilled players can be matched up with more advanced players and thus will be afforded the opportunity to research the more experienced tactics. The telemetry data also collects stats throughout the game. For example, in Halo 2, the killer and the victim are recorded throughout the game and a running total of both a team score and an individual’s kill count are kept. Finally, the telemetry data is collected in order to identify and punish cheaters. Whenever a person is deemed a cheater they are effectively barred from logging back into the game.

Abstract:

Methods and systems for recording and analyzing game session telemetry data are disclosed. A game console records telemetry data during a game session of a video game. The telemetry data may include location and time information for a player character performing various events in the video game. The telemetry data is sent to a title server corresponding to the video game, and the title server analyzes the data and stores the data in a database. A user, via a web site, can subsequently query the telemetry data stored in the database for user-specified criteria. A two-dimensional image of a view of the simulated environment within the video game is generated, overlaid with the location and time-based telemetry data, and is sent to the user for review and analysis.

Illustrative Claim:

1. In a computing network which includes one or more game consoles connectable to a secure private network on which players of an online video game can log on for purposes of playing the online video game and competing with one another, one or more computer-readable media storing computer-executable instructions for performing a method for collecting player telemetry data while the game is played and for analyzing the telemetry data recorded during a game session so that less skilled players have an opportunity to research tactics of more advanced players, wherein said video game comprises a simulated environment in which the game is played, and said telemetry data comprises location information corresponding to one or more events occurring within the simulated environment, and wherein said method is comprised of steps for: at one or more of the player consoles, recording game session telemetry data by either recording at least timestamp and location data for one or more predefined events which occur while the video game is being played, or recording player inputs and periodically recording

U.S. Patent No. 7,582,010: Game machine, game program, and information storage medium
Issued Sep. 1, 2009, to Nintendo


Summary:

The ‘010 patent describes a golf game which features a shot mode where the player presses a button as a cursor moves along a gauge. The first time a player presses a button the shot is started, the second press of the button determines the shot power, and the third time the button is pressed the location for the shot is determined. The gauge is a long block shape. When the player starts the shot the cursor moves along the gauge from right to left. The player controls how hard the ball is hit by pressing the button again when the cursor moves down the gauge. The closer to the left end the player presses, the harder the shot power will be. Finally, the player can control the location of the ball by again pressing the button as the cursor moves back toward the right side of the gauge. There is a line on the gauge that if the cursor stops on it, will make the character hit the ball straight. Thus, the player is given full control over the shot power and location the ball is hit depending on his ability to time his button presses with the cursor as it moves along the gauge.

Abstract:

A game machine and a game program are provided which allow a wide variety of players to enjoy a game, represented by a golf game, in which the player performs an operation of moving an object. The present invention provides a golf game machine that displays a scene in which a player character 71 hits a ball in a game field according to a shot power and a hit location. In addition, the golf game machine displays on a display device a gauge 77 and a cursor 78 which moves on the gauge. The golf game machine adopts an auto shot operation, in which a third input is omitted in the shot operation, and a manual shot operation, which requires the third input. This allows a wide variety of players to enjoy the golf game.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A golf game machine having a dynamic shot mode selection mechanism which displays on a display device a gauge and a cursor moving on the gauge along with a scene in which a ball hit by a player character travels in a game field according to a shot power and a hit location indicated by the cursor on the gauge, and wherein different shot operation selection inputs are performed by a player during a golf game club swing operation, the golf game machine dynamic shot mode selection mechanism comprising: at least one controller having a plurality of control switches for providing a sequence of inputs to said game machine including at least a first input, a second input and a third input, wherein movement of the cursor along the gauge is initiated by the first input from the controller, the shot power is set in relation to a first detected position of the moving cursor at a time producing the second input from the controller, and the hit location is set in relation to a position of the cursor at which movement of the cursor is stopped; start cursor movement process programmed logic circuitry configured to receive said first input from the controller and start the cursor moving along the gauge in response to said first input; input processing programmed logic circuitry configured to receive, as said second input from the controller, an input by a first control switch among the plurality of control switches or an input by a second control switch among the plurality of control switches; and cursor position processing programmed logic circuitry configured to determine, as a cursor first detected position for setting the shot power, a position of a moving cursor at a time of receiving the second input from the controller when said second input is produced from said first control switch said controller, and then determining a subsequent position of the same moving cursor at a time of receiving the third input from the controller as a hit location position on the gauge at which movement of the cursor is stopped; and said cursor position detecting programmed logic circuitry also being configured to determine, as a cursor first detected position for setting a shot power, a position of a moving cursor at a time of receiving said second input when said second input is produced from said second control switch of said controller, and then automatically determining a different position on the gauge as a hit location position at which movement of the cursor is stopped, wherein different first and second control switch activation patterns are recognized by the golf game machine to enable a player to dynamically select between a plurality of different shot operation modes during each club swing operation.


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.
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