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U.S. Patent No. 6,358,148: Control method, apparatus and carrier wave for difficulty in a video game
Issued March 19, 2002, to Square Co., Ltd.


Summary:

The ‘148 patent provides methods for controlling the difficulty in a role playing game. In the game the player can progress his character by clearing stages with varying difficulties. Each stage features a variety of challenges which the player has the option of completing. This gives the player the ability to level his character in a manner he desires. For example, if he wants to progress slowly he can complete challenges which offer fewer points. But if the player wants to progress through the game quickly he can complete the challenges which will give him the biggest point value.

Abstract:

Methods and apparatus for controlling the difficulty in a video game are disclosed. According to one aspect of the present invention, a role playing video game is allowed to progress by clearing a plurality of stages for which individual difficulties are set. A control method for such a video game includes selecting one stage from said plurality of stages in response to a command provided by a game player. The difficulty of the selected stage is adjusted substantially each time an event that is voluntarily challengeable on the selected stage is cleared by the game player during execution of the game, and the difficulties of at least one of the plurality of stages is adjusted in accordance with the difficulty of the selected stage at a clearing time when the selected stage is cleared by the game player's operation during execution of the game.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A computer data signal embodied in a carrier wave for controlling the difficulty in a video game, the game being made to progress by clearing at least one of a plurality of stages for which individual difficulties are set, the computer data signal comprising:

computer code for selecting one stage from said plurality of stages in response to a command provided by a game player;

computer code for gradually adjusting the difficulty of said selected stage substantially every time an event that is voluntarily challengeable on the selected stage is cleared by the game player during execution of the game; and

computer code for adjusting the difficulties of at least one of said plurality of stages in accordance with the difficulty of said selected stage at a clearing time when said selected stage is cleared by an operation of the game player during execution of the game.


U.S. Patent No. 6,336,861: Game machine and information storage medium
Issued Jan. 8, 2002, to Namco, Ltd.


Summary:

The ‘861 patent provides a video game system where it encourages players to join together and play a multiplayer mode. The game has a maximum number of stages that a player can advance to by playing in single player mode. If the player wants to advance to further levels he must play against an opponent. The invention is described as only advancing the player in the game with the higher score. Thus, a player who wishes to complete all the levels of the game must find an opponent and then subsequently beat that opponent to advance. The game can be used in an arcade set up. In this fashion, the player who loses can remain on the current level if he pays another coin. After paying the coin, the player can then compete against another opponent in hopes of winning so he can advance to the next level.

Abstract:

The objective of the present invention is to provide a game machine and information storage medium that make it possible to encourage players who have selected multi-player mode to continue playing. The maximum number of game stages that can be cleared by players in multi-player mode is set to be greater than the maximum number of game stages that can be cleared by a player in single-player mode. In single-player mode, the game is over at the point at which each course is cleared. In multi-player mode, a continuation privilege in the next course (a course that is more difficult) is granted when the current course is cleared. The privilege to continue playing the next course is granted to the player with the higher score, and is also given at a certain probability to the player with the lower score. The player who was not granted the play continuation privilege is allowed to continue playing on condition that a coin is paid, and also an encouragement screen is displayed to induce this payment for play continuation.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A game machine for a multi-player type of game that enables a plurality of players to play, said game machine comprising:

means for performing a game computation, based on operation data that a player inputs by using an operation means;

means for generating at least one of a game image and a game sound in accordance with said game computation; and

means for making a maximum number of game stages that can be cleared by players in a multi-player mode played by a plurality of players greater than a maximum number of game stages that can be cleared by a player in a single-player mode played by a single player.


U.S. Patent No. 6,579,173: Game score determination apparatus and method
Issued June 17, 2003, to Sega


Summary:

The ‘173 patent describes a game where the player’s scores are calculated so as to be equally fair to beginning and experienced players. The most recent score of the player is always kept, but it replaces any score that falls outside of a prestige ranking the player has. Thus, the invention rewards a player for performing well in the current game while not punishing him for his inexperience. We have all had the problem where we are terrible until we get our feet under us during these games. This system should help because our current accomplishments can all but erase our poor starts. As beginners advance and gain more skill this invention should help them move up in the rankings and eventually gain enough skill to compete with the more advanced players.

Abstract:

A game apparatus is disclosed that retains a player's game score, regardless of whether the player is a skilled player or a beginner. The game apparatus performs ranking under circumstances that are fair to both skilled players and beginners. The game apparatus is premised on a fact that a most recent game score of a most recent player is always retained and, because the game apparatus is constituted so as to be fair to beginners and skilled players alike, in storing the most recent score a temporally oldest game score, having a ranking outside of a prestige ranking, is replaced by the most recent score. A ranking display in connection with the game apparatus is not biased toward the skilled player and can be enjoyed even by a beginner.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A game apparatus, comprising: game score computing means for computing a game score pursuant to game results of a player; game score storing means for storing a prescribed limited number of game scores computed using said game score computing means, wherein the prescribed limited number of game scores constitute a prescribed ranking; and substituting means for substituting a most recently completed game score for a preexisting game score regardless of whether the most recently completed game score falls within the prescribed ranking, wherein said substituting means further comprises means for determining whether said prescribed limited number of game scores is exceeded when said most recently completed game score is stored by said game score storing means, and means for replacing said preexisting game score with said most recently completed game score based on an age of said preexisting game score, provided the most recently completed game score is determined not to fall within the prescribed ranking.


U.S. Patent No. 7,677,973: Securing virtual contracts with credit
Issued March 16, 2010, to Leviathan Entertainment, LLC


Summary:

The ‘973 patent is designed to help insure a player’s cooperation and fulfillment of contracts in a video game. The invention allows a player to enter into virtual contracts in the game, contracts which are connected to a real-world bank account (through credit card information). Whenever a player defaults on a contract made in-game, he is fined in real-world money for the breaking of the contract. For all of you who get fed up with players quitting the game before a task is done, it seems this invention could be for you…if you’re willing to risk your money on your own virtual contracts.

Abstract:

The disclosure provides novel video game methods and systems. The disclosure includes methods and systems for allowing game players to secure in-game contracts using credit systems such as credit cards or other financial instruments. The disclosure further provides methods and systems for providing virtual and/or real world financial penalties to game players and/or player characters who default on in-game agreements.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A method performed by a computer, the method comprising: providing, by a Video Game Central Server, a virtual environment that is accessible to one or more players; receiving, by the Video Game Central Server, credit card information from a player; receiving, by the Video Game Central Server, a request to enter into a virtual contract from the player; wherein the virtual contract includes a condition that requires the player to engage in an action other than accessing the virtual environment; guaranteeing, by the Video Game Central Server, the player's performance of the condition identified in the virtual contract with the financial instrument; penalizing, by the Video Game Central Server, the player if the condition is not met, by imposing a financial obligation on the credit card, where the condition is paying a periodic insurance premium for a virtual item; and maintaining, by the Video Game Central Server, the player's credit history by maintaining records of the player's contract obligations and rate of success in fulfilling the obligations.

Related Patents:

U.S. Patent No. 7,666,095
U.S. Patent No.7,645,194

Looks like the Worlds Inc v. Activision case has been dismissed, at least for now.  In an interesting development, it appears that Activision was successful in arguing that Worlds' patent attorneys did not properly claim priority to the filing date of the earliest patent in the family of patents being asserted.  Without that priority date, Worlds patents were invalid because their own products embodying the patents were released more than one year prior to the next filing date.  Worlds tried to correct the mistake by requesting a Certificate of Correction from the USPTO, which was granted on Sept. 24, 2013, but the court said that the certificate of correction was prospective only, and could not be used retroactively.  So the net result is that Worlds' patents were invalid until Sept. 24, 2013, but are valid now.  However, Worlds' case against Activision was premised on infringement occurring prior to Sept. 24, 2013, which is while the patents were invalid, so the court dismissed the lawsuit.

Interesting notes about this case:

  • Worlds Inc. can still appeal.  However, their attorneys are on contingency fee, so it might not be worth it for them at this point.
  • Worlds Inc. is free to refile the case, if it can allege infringement by Activision post-Sept. 24, 2013
  • Worlds Inc. earliest priority date is Nov. 13, 1995.  That means that its patents will likely expire around Nov. 13, 2015 (there may be some time added based on delays by the USPTO during prosecution of the patents... still need to check on that).
  • For any new case filed, the period of time for possible damages is only Sep. 24, 2013 - Nov. 13, 2015.  Not much time to rack up a huge damages award.
  • Any new case filed likely wouldn't be resolved until after the patents expires, thereby taking the threat of an injunction off the table.
Unless Worlds Inc. has other patents not in this family (which, from the USPTO assignment records, does NOT appear to be the case), then this is likely the beginning of the end for Worlds Inc.


U.S. Patent No. 7,677,970: System and method for social matching of game players on-line
Issued March 16, 2010, to Microsoft


Summary:

The ‘970 patent describes the Xbox Live system for matching up users during online play. A number of factors are used to match up similar players to make the game more enjoyable for all players. Factors considered are recent games played and other user’s feedback on a particular player (positive or negative). A player who receives positive reviews from recent opponents will be matched up with users who also receive positive reviews. This allows a user to play against opponents who are most likely to stay in the game, follow the rules of the game, and contribute positively to the overall gaming experience.

Abstract:

A matchmaking service that selects matches based on personal/social characteristics as well as skill and experience. The service takes into account direct feedback from other players about positive and negative experiences with a particular player and expectations about appropriate conduct and type of game being played before a player joins the game session.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A system for socially matching game players for playing a multi-player computer-based game, comprising: a database, stored in a computer readable medium, having a plurality of user profiles, said user profile comprising a plurality of attributes of a plurality of users; and a service, operating on a communications network, receiving input from a select one of said plurality of users from an input device providing criteria for selecting users from said database wherein said criteria include level or social type of play desired by said select one of said plurality of users and wherein said service matches others of said plurality of users indicating a disposition to play at the selected level or social type of play and wherein said service ranks the others of said plurality of users at least based on recent game play in which the select one of said plurality of users provided positive feedback.


U.S. Patent No. 7,677,976: Video game processing apparatus, a method and a computer program product for processing a video game
Issued March 16, 2010, to Square Enix


Summary:

The ‘976 patent describes a type of role-playing game where the user’s character has different attacks available that do different damages and have different effects (think Final Fantasy). The invention determines whether an attack is direct of a specific kind of attack. The invention also provides for a panic reaction where the player’s character’s attacks change depending on the level of panic the character is experiencing. If the panic is too high the user can neither attack nor defend against the enemy character. The player may also check the level of panic in the opposing character and strategically plan an attack against the enemy, creating more damage than a normal attack.

Abstract:

When a player character applies a damage to an attack target character on the basis of an attack action of the player character, it is determined whether the attack is a direct attack or a specific kind of attack different from the direct attack and defined in advance. A panic reaction term of a panic reaction is determined in the case where it is determined that the attack is the specific kind of attack. In the panic reaction, the attack target character becomes a state where the attack target character cannot attack the player character and defend oneself from an attack from the player character. The panic reaction is executed until the panic reaction term elapses. A privilege is applied to the player character in the case where it is determined that the attack target character suffers the direct attack during execution of the panic reaction.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A video game processing apparatus that causes an image display apparatus to display a player character on an image display screen of the image display apparatus, the video game processing apparatus controlling progress of a video game by controlling an action of the player character to be displayed on the image display screen in accordance with operations by a player, the video game processing apparatus comprising: an attack specification receiver that receives an attack specification for the player character by an attack specification operation of the player; an attack determiner that, when the player character applies a damage to an attack target character on the basis of an attack action of the player character in accordance with the attack specification received by the attack specification receiver, determines whether the attack action suffered by the attack target character is one of a direct attack and a specific kind of attack, in the direct attack the attack target character suffering a damage directly from the player character, the specific kind of attack being different from the direct attack and defined in advance; a reaction term determiner that determines a panic reaction term of a panic reaction when the attack determiner determines that the attack action is the specific kind of attack, the panic reaction being a specific kind of attack suffered reaction indicating a reaction of the attack target character that suffers the specific kind of attack, in the panic reaction the attack target character being in a state where the attack target character cannot attack the player character and defend oneself from an attack from the player character; a reaction executor that executes the panic reaction for the attack target character that suffers the specific kind of attack until the panic reaction term determined by the reaction term determiner elapses; and a privilege applier that applies a privilege to the player character when the attack determiner determines that the attack target character suffers the direct attack during execution of the panic reaction by the reaction executor, wherein the reaction term determiner determines a new panic reaction term by extending a remaining term of a previous panic reaction term when the attack determiner determines that an additional attack that the attack target character suffers during execution of the previous panic reaction is the specific kind of attack, wherein, when the new panic reaction term determined by the reaction term determiner exceeds a predetermined threshold value during the execution of the previous panic reaction, the reaction executor terminates the execution of the panic reaction for the attack target character and causes the image display apparatus to display a status indicating that the new panic reaction term exceeds the predetermined threshold value in the vicinity of a display position of the attack target character on the image display screen, and executes a first specific reaction, in which the attack target character is in a state where the attack target player can attack the player character and defend oneself from the player character, until the new panic reaction term elapses, and wherein the privilege applier applies the privilege according to the displayed status of the attack target character to the player character when the attack target character suffers the direct attack from the player character to become a battle impossible state during execution of the first specific reaction.


U.S. Patent No. 7,677,977: Video game processing apparatus, a method and a computer program product for processing a video game
Issued March 16, 2010, to Square Enix


Summary:

The ‘977 describes a feature for role-playing games whereby the main character is controlled by the user while a sub-character (computer controlled) follows behind him. The invention programs the sub-character so that he follows the path taken by the main character. Thus, the character automatically follows the user. This saves the user time by only having to move one character, not both. If the player gets too far ahead of the sub-character, the sub-character is programmed to take the shortest route to catch up to the user-controlled character.

Abstract:

A movement determining map is stored in addition to a field display map. The field display map is a three-dimensional map for displaying a field of the video game on the image display screen. The movement determining map is a two-dimensional map in which an enterable region. An unenterable region is distinguishably provided for the characters existing in the field. A control section determines a movement route of the sub character, in which no unenterable region exists, using the movement determining map when a predetermined movement route determining condition is met. The sub character is caused to move in accordance with the determined movement route. The predetermined movement route determining condition is met every predetermined period of time or in the case where the main character moves apart from the sub character in a predetermined distance or more.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A video game processing apparatus that causes an image display apparatus to display multiple characters, including a main character and a sub character moving in a field that includes an enterable region and an unenterable region provided in a virtual three-dimensional space, on an image display screen of the image display apparatus, the video game processing apparatus controlling progress of the video game by controlling an action such as moving of the main character to be displayed on the image display screen in accordance with operations by a player and an action such as moving of the sub character following the moving of the main character to be displayed on the image display screen in accordance with a predetermined control program, the sub character moving so as to follow the main character, the video game processing apparatus comprising: a movement determining map generator that generates a movement determining mare based on a field display map, the field display mare being a three-dimensional mare that represents the field provided in the virtual three-dimensional space, the movement determining mare being a two-dimensional representation of the field display mare that identifies the enterable region and the unenterable region of the field; a movement determining map memory that stores the movement determining map in addition to the field display map; a movement route determiner that identifies the enterable region and the unenterable region on the field provided in the virtual three-dimensional space by using the movement determining map and that determines a movement route of the sub character in the field using the movement determining map when the main character separates from the sub character by a predetermined distance; and a movement executor that causes the sub character to move in accordance with the movement route determined by the movement route determiner, wherein the determined movement route of the sub character causes the sub character to follow the main character in the enterable region on the field, and wherein the determined movement route of the sub character exists only in the enterable region on the field.

P.S. PRODUCTS, INC. v. ACTIVISION BLIZZARD, INC., 
Case No. 4:13-cv-00342-KGB 
United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas

Activision delivers a knockout punch.

P.S. Products had sued Activision Blizzard for patent infringement based on a design patent owned by P.S. Products directed to the design of a stun gun shaped to look like and be worn as brass knuckles.  Activision Blizzard had included a different looking virtual brass-knuckle-stun-gun in Call of Duty, Black Ops II. Litigation ensued.  After various motions, and before getting too far along, the court has now granted Activision's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.

Two points are critical here.

First, the differences between the two designs:

P.S. Products' Design Patent D561,294:
Activision Blizzard's Galvaknuckles:


Second, the design patent depicts physical brass knuckles, whereas the galvaknuckles are only ever rendered as a virtual item in a video game.  Activision Blizzard does not manufacture or sell physical Galvaknuckles.

While the differences in appearance certainly weigh in the mind of the judge, the court instead relies heavily on the second point in dismissing the patent infringement claim, stating "[n]o reasonable person would purchase defendants’ video game believing that they were purchasing plaintiffs’ stun gun."  The court thereby apparently takes the view that a design patent for a physical item is not infringed by a virtual rendering of that item. However, the court is silent regarding whether the significant differences in the designs of the two items at issue here played any part in its analysis.  The court also dismissed (for less interesting reasons) the unfair trade, trade dress, and trademark infringement counts.

Order dated February 21, 2014


U.S. Patent No. 7,677,979: Method and system for allocating resources in a video game
Issued March 16, 2010, to Leviathan Entertainment, LLC




Summary:

The ‘979 patent is intended for use during MMOs whereby a player can control the quantity and distribution of virtual natural resources. The user has the ability to exchange resources with a second player. The resources in the game are renewable and the player can exchange them at will. The value of the resources depends on a conversion rate set by the two players involved. The player needs to use these resources to complete game objectives, so they more wisely he uses the resources, the better the game will be for him.

Abstract:

The present disclosure provides various novel concepts to a video game environment. The disclosure describes video game environments that include a method and system for controlling the quantity and distribution of virtual natural resources, raw materials, skills and NPCs in and between games, where player characters may acquire, use and modify such virtual resources within the physical limits of the games.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A method performed by a computing device, the method comprising: running, by a Video Game Central Server, a massive multi player online game that is operable to simultaneously support a plurality of players via a plurality of video game devices, in which each of the players controls at least one player character, in which play of the game continues regardless of whether a first player character of the plurality of player characters is logged in to the game; in which a first game environment is provided to the first player character; acquiring, by the Video Game Central Server, virtual resources from a second game environment through a virtual exchange, based on a conversion rate between the first game environment and the second game environment, wherein the first game environment and the second game environment exist in different games; determining, by the Video Game Central Server, a value in the first game environment of the virtual resources from the second game environment; and permitting, by the Video Game Central Server, the first player character to select an amount of virtual resources for distribution within the game environment wherein the resources available for selection depends on a game objective.

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