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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.
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.

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