U.S. Patent No. RE33,662: TV animation interactively controlled by the viewer
Issued August 13, 1991


The ‘662 reissue patent provides for a motion picture branching method where the animation on the screen is controlled solely by the actions of the player. One described use of the patent involves a player swinging a racket toward the screen to control his character to connect with a ball in mid-air. Once the character hits the ball, it heads toward the opposing player (computer or human) who can then hit the ball back. The flow of the game is not set and is fully determined by the decisions of the player. The animations described in this patent are all on multiple tracts which play out based on the decisions of the player, not from a pre-defined route.


The motion picture branching method is superseded by an animation method which enables rapid and repeated switching of multiple tracks of different camera-originated animation of the same character during continuous action in a scene, and enables branching at the termination of an action to multiple actions or scenes. This method is the basis of a double-circuit video system that enables a player to repeatedly touch or hit an animated character during a continuous action as displayed on a projection screen or television monitor and thus change the action repeatedly. Another system embodiment enables the player to swing a racket before the screen or television monitor, hit the mid-air projected image of a perspective ball animated action, return the ball back to the animated character opponent, and play a simulated game during the the player exercises the same skills used to play the game simulated. An ultrasonic transducer of a playing instrument and a microphone combination on the television face or at angles to the playing action produces a readout of the television product position or the mid-air position of the playing instrument relating to the game. The readout signal is converted into digital form and compared to a similar readout in digital form of the position of the character or object in the frame of the animation displayed by the television and digitally coded in the video tape or disc.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A video game system providing repeated switching of multiple tracks of different actions of the same animated character according to the skill of the operator in contacting the camera-originated animation display, comprising:

multiple tracks of animated motion picture production of different actions of the same character providing coded frames for track switching and coded location coordinates of said character target,

a video-audio input terminal providing means to operate multiple tracks of animation, providing for the switching thereof during operation, and providing for film track selection, masking, and centering to the full raster,

a player input terminal including a playing instrument deployed before the display with a transducer and a microphone combination mounted on the mutually perpendicular sides of the face of said monitor, providing means for producing digital signals representative of the two coordinates of the location of said playing instrument with respect to the image on said monitor,

means of entering a table of values representing digital coordinates of the locations of animation targets per frame and means for entering episode cueing (cuing) data into memory storage at the start of the episode,

means of retrieval of said digital coordinates of the location of said target area at a designated frame from the memory storage,

means of comparing and matching the coodinates of the location of said playing instrument transducer to the coordinates of the location of said animated target area retrieved from said memory storage at a designated frame, to obtain the category of proximity,

means of processing and dispatching to effect the switching of multiple tracks of animation to the said video-audio terminal based on the said determined category of proximity obtained by the comparison of the location of said playing instrument transducer to animated target area and frame cueing from said memory storage,

continuing means of processing and dispatching for instructing said video-audio terminal to re-wind multiple tracks of animation to another episode determined by means of random choice or player input at the termination of an episode.

U.S. Patent No. RE34,728: Video game difficulty level adjuster dependent upon player’s aerobic activity level during exercise
Issued September 13, 1994, to Heartbeat Corp.


For all you health nuts out there who don’t enjoy going to an actual gym to get your workout, the ‘728 reissue patent may interest you. It describes an exercise device (it can be a treadmill, bicycle, or climbing device) which monitors a player’s activity level and heart rate and will play through the game based on these vital signs. One game type exemplified by the patent is a Pac-Man type game where if the user’s heart rate drops below a predetermined point, the ghosts will move faster toward the user-controlled character, forcing the player to peddle or walk faster to avoid them. Once the player’s heart rate is determined to be above the minimum desired rate, the ghosts will slow back down to their normal speed. Interesting concept; is this what they had in mind:


An exercise device, such as a exercise bicycle, is connected to a speed sensor indicating activity level, e.g. speed of the bicycle. The activity level signal, along with a heart rate signal, are provided to a video game, such as a Pac-man type video game. The game monitors the heart rate of the exerciser. If the heart rate falls outside preset minimum or maximum limits, a certain action occurs in the game, such as an increase in speed or skill level of the opposition. In the Pac-man type game for example, should the heart rate fall below the desired workout rate, the villain (the goblin) would move at a speed faster than the players' speed, putting the player at a disadvantage. The player would respond by increasing his level of physical activity, thereby increasing the heart rate until it exceeds the minimum aerobic level required, at which time the villain's speed would return to its normal level.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A combination exercise device and game apparatus, comprising:

an exercise device for aerobic activity;

means for sensing the activity output level of said aerobic exercise device, and for outputting an activity level signal having a characteristic indicative of said activity level;

means for sensing the heart rate of the user;

a video game having at least one user operated control for controlling the actions of at least one player, regulating means for regulating the relative action of said one player and one of an opposition piece or obstacle, display means for displaying the one player and the one of said opposition piece or obstacle, said regulating means further including means for increasing the speed of both the one player and the one of the opposition piece or obstacle in response to and in proportion to the activity level, and the regulating means further including means for rendering the video game more difficult for the one player relative to the opposition piece or obstacle by increasing the speed of the opposition piece or obstacle in response to the heart rate of the user falling below a first predetermined level.

Impulse v. Nintendo et. al.
United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio
Case No.: 11-CV-02519-JG; filed November 11, 2011

Impulse originally filed suit against Nintendo, EA, Ubisoft, THQ, Konami, Majesco and Namco Bandai claiming infringement of patent for an, “interactive system measuring physiological exertions.”  The complaint outlined that fitness titles such as “EA Sports Active Personal Trainer” and peripherals such as the “Wii Fit Plus” and the “Wii Balance Board”.  On October 23, 2012, the case was dismissed with prejudice as to all claims against the game developers but without prejudice as to all claims made by the defendants against Impulse.

U.S. Patent No. RE35,314: Multi-player, multi-character cooperative play video game with independent player entry and departure

Issued Aug. 20, 1996, to Atari


The ‘314 reissue patent first allows for a plurality of players to simultaneously and independently control the movements and actions of their individual characters. It also allows each player to enter and exit the game at any time without ending the gameplay for the other players. This feature improves the gameplay for the users because they do not have to have a committed group which will stay for the entire mission. Instead, by allowing the game to continue even if someone joins or leaves, it means the mission can be completed at anytime, not just whenever it is convenient for everyone involved. pThe system called for in the patent encourages players to either work together or compete with the other characters to defeat monsters, obtain possession of limited resources, or battle against the other users.


A multi-player, multi-character video game where the games rules force the players to cooperate in negotiating the maze at least until the characters reach a portion of the maze where a specific objective is located. Certain limited resources to change the attributes of the characters or to increase their longevity are displayed in a maze. The players may compete to obtain possession of these limited resources when the characters have cooperated in their movements sufficiently to move to the location of the limited resources. Cooperation among the characters is forced by forcing all characters active in the game to remain visible in the displayed window. Players may enter the game at any time, and they may leave the game at any time without affecting the status of the game or the status of the other characters in the game. All active players may simultaneously, independently control their characters so long as they do not attempt to move their characters outside the currently displayed window.

Illustrative Claim: 

1. A video game comprising:

a central processing unit;

a video display;

a plurality of sets of controls coupled to said central processing unit;

sofware means run by said central processing unit and coupled to said controls, and to said video display for reading player input from said controls and generating, storing, changing and outputting data for causing said video display to display a maze populated by a plurality of different kinds of characters each having attributes, said maze also being populated by a plurality of attribute-affecting entities including monsters, each said character having attributes including longevity and abilities including the ability to fight and to move, said attributes defined by stored data, said longevity attribute defined by stored data and decreasing over time and when that character is damaged by a monster, and including means for displaying different types of resources having characteristics defined by stored data and displayed on said video display throughout said maze in quantities and loctions established by said software means, said resources increasing the longevity attribute or otherwise affecting the attributes of the first character which is displayed to have obtained possession of them, and for causing said video display to display action by said characters and said monsters in accordance with rules of said game implemented by the following included means:

first means for allowing a plurality of players to each simultaneously and independently control the movements and actions of one of said plurality of characters in the video game via said controls;

second means for allowing any one of said plurality of players to enter the game at any time and simultaneously and independently control the movements and actions of one of said characters independently of when the other players started playing or when any other said player or players stops playing; and

third means for encouraging the players to cooperate during play by displaying on said video display only a window portion of said maze which is related to the relative positions of all the characters being active in that they are controlled by a player at that time and by not allowing any active character to move outside the bounds of said window portion and by moving the window portion to display different portions of said maze only so long as all the active characters are contained in said window portion.

The Learning Company v. Zynga, Inc.
United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts
Case No: 11-cv-10894; filed June 7, 2011

This case arose from a trademark dispute regarding The Learning Company’s (“TLC”) popular “Oregon Trail” computer game.  TLC claimed Zynga infringed upon their property by using the name “Oregon Trail” in its similarly themed game “Frontierville”.  While Oregon Trail does refer to TLC’s well-known game, it also refers to the 2,000 mile long wagon route connecting the area around the Missouri River to Oregon which was used when settlers began moving west in the 1800s.  On December 18, 2012, TLC and Zynga entered into an out-of-court settlement and the case was voluntarily dismissed with prejudice.

U.S. Patent No. RE37,948: Video game apparatus, method and device for controlling same, and memory cartridge for video game
Issued December 31, 2002, to Square Co. Ltd.


The ‘948 reissue patent applies conventional turn-based role-playing games or battle games (ex. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons or Wizard’s Crown). It describes a system which allows a player to execute an action commanded that causes the enemy character to execute a predetermined action. Each player (and computer enemy) have a set amount of time to perform an action before the other is allowed to take action. Whenever a player attacks an enemy, the enemy player has a chance to counter the attack with a certain action. The enemy player can input a command before the player has entered an attack. This way, the enemy attack will occur immediately after the player’s attack. This is to simulate actual combat with as much realism as possible.


Disclosed in a video game of enhanced realism in which actual combat is closely simulated. The game is so adapted that an enemy character on a display screen may launch an attack against a player character on the same screen, even while the player character is the process of inputting a command, at elapse of a set time period specific to the enemy character. The attack is made without an interruption in the flow of time of the game.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A memory cartridge for program control of a computer for a video game including a CPU for executing processing in accordance with a program, a memory for use during program execution by said CPU, a display processing unit for displaying a game video screen on a display unit under control of said CPU, and an input unit for inputting action commands; said memory cartridge storing a program, said program including instructions for: causing the display unit to display a player character and an enemy character on a display screen, causing the player character to execute an action commanded in response to an action command inputted from said input unit, causing the enemy character to execute a predetermined action, causing a counter associated with each player and enemy character, to count a time, which is assigned to each of the player and enemy characters, from an end of said commanded action and said predetermined action of each of the player and enemy characters, respectively, causing said counter to generate a signal for each of the enemy and player characters when the time counted is equal to the time assigned thereto, in response to said generated signal, allowing said input unit to input the action command for the player character, and proceeding to execution of the action in accordance with the inputted action command, and in response to said generated signal, processing the predetermined action in accordance with a predetermined action schedule for the enemy character.

Timegate Studios, Inc. v. Southpeak Interactive, L.L.C
713 F.3d 797 United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit
Filed April 9, 2013.

Although not an intellectual property matter, Timegate provides some valuable insights and lessons for game developers and publishers regarding the drafting of development agreements.  In June 2007, Timegate Studios, Inc. ("Timegate") entered into a video game publishing agreement with Gamecock Media Group ("Gamecock") who was later acquired by Southpeak Interactive ("Southpeak").  The terms of the agreement stated that Timegate would develop a "high quality" military-style shoot entitled "Section 8" which would then be published by Gamecock.  The agreement specified that in return for designing the game, Gamecock would, "provide most of the investment funding for the game's development. . . . [as well as] manufacturing, marketing, distributing and selling the game after its development." While Timegate remain the exclusive owner of the game's intellectual property, Gamecock was granted exclusive, world-wide rights to produce and sell the game.  These exclusive rights were to last for a period of eight years from the initial release or for five years after any sequel or downloadable content, whichever was later. 

In September 2009, the game was released and Southpeak had acquired Gamecock and its rights and duties as publisher under the 2007 agreement.  The relationship between the parties began to deteriorate, shortly thereafter, due to sales not reaching expectations.  Timegate filed suit against Gamecock in December 2009 alleging violations of the publishing agreement; Timegate also alleged that Southpeak misreported sales figures in order to withhold Timegate's shares of the revenue.  Southpeak, on the other hand, maintains that Timegate terminated the agreement in order to be released from the contract due to the game being unprofitable.  Southpeak further alleges that Timegate published a Playstation 3 version of the game as well as a sequel without providing Southpeak with any revenue derived from those games even though the agreement called for sharing of revenue.  Gamecock moved the court to stay the trial due to an arbitration clause in the 2007 agreement.  At arbitration, the arbitrator found in favor of Gamecock and awarded $7.5 million, the loss sustained by Gamecock to date, plus attorney's fees, and a perpetual license in the "Section 8" property.  Specifically, the arbitrator found that Timegate had made fraudulent misrepresentations and breached the contract due to Timegate not spending the $7.5 million in development that was stated in the agreement.  What Timegate did spend was only $6.76 million, pocketing the remaining money for itself, and Timegate also failed to invest $2.5 million of its own money into the game which was specified in the agreement.  The arbitration award was later vacated by the district court causing Gamecock to appeal to the Fifth Circuit. 

The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's decision and ordered the arbitration award to be reinstated.  While noting that the arbitration clause was "quite broad", there were no limitations on the award that could be granted.  Furthermore, the granting of the license "furthered the general aims of the Development Agreement;" because "Timegate committed an extraordinary breach of the Agreement, and an equally extraordinary realignment of the parties' original rights is necessary to preserve the essence of the Agreement.

This case should be noted for game developers, as well as publishers, because it shows the drastic consequences that can result from an overly broad arbitration clause.  The overly broad arbitration clause may have been convenient during the drafting phase, but had it not been present, it is possible that Southpeak would not have received such a large award in damages or the perpetual license in the "Section 8" property.  This further emphasizes the importance of hiring an attorney with a strong background in drafting complex development agreements; otherwise, a developer or publisher is potentially opening itself up to significant consequences when acting as their own contract counsel.
In re: NCAA Student-Athlete Name & Likeness Licensing Litigation
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California
Case Number: 4:09-cv-01967

On Thursday, June 21, 2013, a group of current and former NCAA athletes sought class action status from a California federal judge.  They allege that the NCAA violated anti-trust laws (as well as their right of publicity) by using their names and likenesses in television broadcasts and videogames without providing any form of compensation.  District Court Judge Claudia Wilken asked attorneys for the plaintiffs to, "disprove the NCAA's arguments that the players" had different levels of ability and fame which would create a conflict within the class.  Attorneys for the NCAA also alleged that class status could not be granted in regards to broadcasts because the broadcasts do not feature every athlete on a team's roster.

            Michael D. Hausfeld (of Hausfeld LLP) argued that the first argument was invalid because student athletes receive the same scholarships regardless of ability, and compensation from broadcasts could be distributed equally in the same manner.  Hausfeld stated, "[d]istributing revenue from the conveyance of image and likeness, would correlate to that fairness principle by maintaining the equality of all the athletes."  Furthermore, it would not be difficult to establish which athletes appear in the broadcasts because in other industries there are those who keep track of appearances.  Gregory Curtner (of Schiff Hardin), arguing on behalf of the NCAA, stated it would be an arduous task, and that, "[a]scertainability is a big issue and [the plaintiffs] have no solution for it."  Counsel for the players goes on to argue that the NCAA, by requiring players to participate as amateurs and prohibiting them from being compensated, for a, "horizontal agreement to not compete."

            The various lawsuits name the NCAA, game publisher EA Sports, and Collegiate Licensing Co. (a trademark licensing and marketing company).  Trial is currently scheduled for February 2014.  This case could be significant for EA because the NCAA players are seeking injunctive relief to prevent EA from continuing to make its NCAA series without providing compensation.  In the event that this happens, EA will need to decide whether to continue making its NCAA franchise without using the likenesses of current players to market the game, or start paying a new license fee.

            We will update accordingly as more details come up.

U.S. Patent No. RE38,982: Gambling game system and methods
Issued February 14, 2006, to Digideal Corp.


The ‘982 patent describes a method for playing blackjack against a computer opponent. The computer deals the cards to all the players at the table and then to itself. A player is then able to ask for other cards or stick with the originally dealt hand. If the player’s hand exceeds a total of “21,” then the computer wins as long as its cards are under that amount. If the computer exceeds 21, however, but the player does not, the player is the victor. The current patent allows this common card game to be played on a network or on an electronic machine where the computer is programmed to exceed the total of 21 a certain amount of times.


A blackjack or other card game system having a plurality of player counters which count the blackjack hands or other player jackpot tally events dealt to players. The system also includes at least one dealer counter which counts the number of bust hands of the dealer or other dealer jackpot tally events. Displays are included for both the dealer and players to indicate the counts. The counters are typically zeroed at the end of each hand if a tally event has not occurred. Jackpots are awarded when the tally counts exceed predefined thresholds. A tabletop retrofit game system is shown for mounting upon blackjack tables. A special round of play having modified rules can be used as part of the jackpot award.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A method for playing a card game involving a dealer and at least one player, comprising the following steps: establishing a predetermined player jackpot tally event wherein said predetermined player jackpot tally event is a predetermined outcome of a player's card hand; establishing a predetermined dealer bust event wherein said predetermined dealer bust event is a predetermined outcome of a dealer's card hand; providing a player jackpot tally event status display for each player comprising a numeric LED readout visible to all players and the dealer; providing a dealer bust event status display comprising a numeric LED readout visible to all players and the dealer; starting a round of play by dealing a card hand to each player and to the dealer; determining whether a player jackpot tally event has occurred for each player; determining whether a dealer bust event has occurred for the dealer; incrementing a player's player jackpot tally event display if said player's card hand is a predetermined player jackpot tally event; incrementing said dealer bust event display if said dealer's card hand is a predetermined dealer bust event; continuing another round of play and incrementing each player jackpot tally event display and dealer bust event display as recited above, and while continuous rounds are played rewarding any player whose player jackpot tally event display has exceeded a predetermined player jackpot tally event threshold; rewarding all players if said dealer bust event display has exceeded a predetermined dealer bust event threshold; zeroing any said player jackpot tally event display when the associated player's card hand did not increment the player's said jackpot tally event display; zeroing said dealer jackpot tally event display when the dealer's card hand did not increment said dealer bust event display.

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