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Inventor Holdings, LLC v. [Multiple Defendants]
United States District Court for the District of Delaware
File Nos. 1-14-cv-01067 (Gameloft); 1-14-cv-01068 (Glu Mobile); 1-14-cv-01069 (Kabam); 1-14-cv-01070 (King.com); 1-14-cv-01071 (ngmoco); 1-14-cv-01072 (Rovio); 1-14-cv-01073 (Supercell)

In several new lawsuits filed August 19, 2014, plaintiff Inventor Holdings, LLC argues that several popular mobile games infringe newly granted U.S. Pat. No. 8,784,198.  The '198 patent claims priority dating back to February 18, 2000 and discusses providing unlock codes for unlockable "outcomes."  The patentee wasted no time in filing this lawsuit: the '198 patent was granted on July 22, 2014.

While the body of the '198 patent discusses the concept of "outcomes" at a high level and across a range of implementations, the claims of the '198 patent are directed to a mobile device providing a game with a locked outcome and associated benefit.  The benefit is provided to a user when the game receives a signal with an unlock code.  Some examples of the benefits include continued access to the game, an enhancement or modification to the game, and an advancement within the game.  

Claim 18 is representative and recites:
18. A non-transitory computer-readable medium storing instructions for directing a processor of a mobile device to perform a method, the method comprising:
     facilitating play of a game on the mobile device by recognizing inputs provided by a user via an input mechanism of the mobile device, at least one of the inputs causing progress in the game;
     receiving a signal comprising an unlock code;
     determining a locked outcome of the game;
     unlocking the locked outcome of the game using the unlock code, thereby determining an unlocked outcome;
     determining an intra-game benefit associated with the unlocked outcome; and
     providing the intra-game benefit to the user by incorporating the intra-game benefit into the game.

Some of the notable games accused here include "Kim Kardashian: Hollywood," "Clash of Clans," and "Marvel War of Heroes."  To any extent these claims are interpreted to read on unlocking content included in an installed game by sending an unlock code to the game, these cases could impact unlockable game content and microtransactions.  As both of these features have become increasingly common in video games of all sorts, this case could have an impact throughout the industry.

We'll continue to monitor these cases for any interesting developments.
Planet Bingo, LLC v. VKGS LLC (dba Video King)
United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
- Nonprecedential -
Case No. 2013-1663
Decided: August 26, 2014

In what it called "a straight-forward application of the Supreme Court's recent holding in Alice Corp v. CLS Bank International," the Federal Circuit found a system for managing a game of bingo to be patent ineligible under 35 U.S.C. 101.  Op. at 2.

The patents in question, US 6,398,646 and 6,656,045, generally recite storing a preferred set of numbers for a bingo player, allowing the user to play that set, and tracking the game/payouts.  Claim 1 of the '646 patent claims a system with expressly recited computer components:
1. A system for managing a game of Bingo which comprises:
(a) a computer with a central processing unit (CPU) and with a memory and with a printer connected to the CPU;
(b) an input and output terminal connected to the CPU and memory of the computer; and
(c) a program in the computer enabling:
(i) input of at least two sets of Bingo numbers which are preselected by a player to be played in at least one selected game of Bingo in a future period of time;
(ii) storage of the sets of Bingo numbers which are preselected by the player as a group in the memory of the computer;
(iii) assignment by the computer of a player identifier unique to the player for the group having the sets of Bingo numbers which are preselected by the player wherein the player identifier is assigned to the group for multiple sessions of Bingo;
(iv) retrieval of the group using the player identifier;
(v) selection from the group by the player of at least one of the sets of Bingo numbers preselected by the player and stored in the memory of the computer as the group for play in a selected game of Bingo in a specific session of Bingo wherein a number of sets of Bingo numbers selected for play in the selected game of Bingo is less than a total number of sets of Bingo numbers in the group;
(vi) addition by the computer of a control number for each set of Bingo numbers selected for play in the selected game of Bingo;
(vii) output of a receipt with the control number, the set of Bingo numbers which is preselected and selected by the player, a price for the set of Bingo numbers which is preselected, a date of the game of Bingo and optionally a computer identification number; and
(viii) output for verification of a winning set of Bingo numbers by means of the control number which is input into the computer by a manager of the game of Bingo.
The district court judge granted summary judgment of invalidity as to each claim of the '646 patent and the '045 patent.  The judge reasoned that "each method claim encompasses the abstract idea of managing/playing the game of Bingo" and that the user of a computer "adds nothing more than the ability to manage... Bingo more efficiently."  Op. at 2-3 (citing district court opinion Planet Bingo, LLC v. VKGS LLC, 961 F. Supp. 2d 840 (W.D. Mich. 2013).  Further, the judge found that the system claims employ a computer "only for its most basic functions" including "storing numbers, assigning identifiers, allowing for basic inputs and outputs, printing a receipt, displaying of numbers, and/or matching... for verification.  Op. at 3 (citing district court opinion).

Judge Hughes of the Federal Circuit agreed with the district court that there is no meaningful distinction between the method and system claims in the patents.  Both sets of claims recite the same basic processes.  Op. at 4.  After observing that the claims of the patents recited selecting, storing, and retrieving sets of numbers, assigning identifiers, and comparing bingo numbers, the Court noted that "like the claims at issue in Benson, not only can these steps be 'carried out in existing computers long in use', but they also can be 'done mentally'."  Op. at 4.

Planet Bingo argued that, in practice, their systems involved "literally thousands, if not millions of preselected Bingo numbers" and that it would be impossible for the system to be carried out manually.  However, the Court noted that the claims did not require "thousands" or "millions" of sets and instead only required two sets of numbers.  The Court declined to decide "whether a claimed invention requiring many transactions might tip the scales of patent eligibility."  Op. at 5.

The Court found that the claims recited an abstract idea similar to that of Alice and Bilski.  The claims recited methods and systems for managing a game of Bingo, and the Court held that the claims were directed to the abstract idea of "solving a tampering problem and also minimizing other security risks."  Op. at 5 (quoting Planet Bingo's brief).  The Court found this idea similar to that of "risk hedging during consumer transactions" (Bilski) and "mitigating settlement risk in financial transactions" (Alice).

The Court then turned to the computer components of the claims to determiner whether they "contain an 'inventive concept sufficient to transform the claimed abstract idea in a patent-eligible application.'"  Op. at 5 (quoting Alice, citation omitted).  The Court examined the recited computer elements in the claims, dividing the generic computer components from the recited programmed functionality:


Op. at 6.  The Court determined that the claims recite a generic computer implementation of the covered abstract idea.  Id.  Ultimately, "as was the case in Alice, 'the function performed by the computer at each step of the process is purely conventional.'"  Op. at 6 (quoting Alice).

You can read the whole opinion here.

The aftermath of Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International continues.  The full scope of the impact the decision will ultimately have on computer and software patent still remains to be seen.

U.S. Patent 6,331,146: Video game system and method with enhanced three-dimensional character and background control
Issued December 18, 2001, to Nintendo Co. Ltd.



Summary:

The ‘146 patent concerns a three-dimensional world with multiple courses. In the case of Super Mario 64, those courses were hidden behind doors and paintings on the wall of Princess Peach’s castle. A player, when approaches a door or painting, must have achieved a certain number of goals before he is allowed to open it and advance to a new level. If the player has failed to achieve the minimum number of goals from the lower worlds, he will be denied access to any further worlds until he meets the minimum goal. For all of you who get a bit nostalgic, here’s a screenshot of everyone’s favorite 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, e.g., four "C" buttons in the exemplary embodiment. The control keys allow the user at any time to move in for a close up or pull back for a wide view or pan the camera to the right and left to change the apparent camera angle. Such user initiated camera manipulation permits a player to better judge jumps or determine more precisely where an object is located in relation to the player controlled character. The video game system and methodology features a unique player controller, which permits control over a character's exploration of the three-dimensional world to an unprecedented extent. A player controlled character may be controlled in a multitude of different ways utilizing the combination of the joystick and/or cross-switch and/or control keys and a wide range of animation effects are generated.

Illustrative Claim:

1. For use with a video game system having a game program execution processing system including a microprocessor for executing a video game program and a coprocessor, coupled to said game microprocessor, for cooperating with said game microprocessor to execute said video game program, at least one player controller operable by a player to generate video game control signals, and a removable storage device for storing a program for controlling the operation of said video game system, a method of operating said video game system comprising the steps of:

generating a three-dimensional world display of a first video game play course;

storing the number of goals achieved by a player in said first video game course;

generating a three-dimensional world display of a second video game play course;

storing the number of goals achieved by a player in said second video game course;

maintaining a cumulative total of the number of goals achieved by a player at least on said first and second video game courses;

comparing said cumulative total of the number of goals achieved by a player at least on said first and second video game courses with a predetermined threshold; and

preventing access to a third video game course if said cumulative total is below said predetermined threshold.

Related patents:

U.S. Patent No. 6,267,673
U.S. Patent No. 6,155,926
U.S. Patent No. 6,139,434
U.S. Patent No. 6.139.433


U.S. Patent No. 6,722,989: Virtual pet game in which the virtual pet can converse with the player and learn new words and phrases from these conversations
Issued Apr. 20, 2004, to Sony


Summary:

The ‘989 patent provides a portable electronic device which allows a player to connect to his virtual pet. During the connection, a number of conversation scripts are downloaded which allows the virtual pet to communicate with the player. The user can teach the pet new words and have the pet react to the commands these words provide. The invention also includes a dictionary function which allows the pet to speak and understand several words. Pets can understand and playback whole sentences if the player takes the time to teach them how. This invention looks to provide a very entertaining toy for a child by giving the player complete control over the pet’s learning.

Abstract:

A portable electronic device is selectively connected to a master. Durring conection, a plurality of conversation scripts and associated dictionay are downloaded to provide a video game comprising a virtual pet, which game is capable of being executed independently from the master. The virtual pet is able to provide an interactive conversation with a user by the use of the script programs and a dictionary. In addition, the user is able to teach the virtual pet new words. Attributes of the words are modified when the user teaches the pet the words, and their intended meaning, and durring later conversations. The attributes are modified based upon the responses of a user to questions asked by the pet. The user responds by selection of one of a number of possible replies.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A comnunuication apparatus between a user and an entertainment apparatus, the entertainment apparatus having at least a microprocessor, memory, display controller and means for inputting user commands, said communication apparatus comprising: an electronic dictionary comprising words and associated status information related specifically to said words; an alteration element to modify the status information of one or more words based on user interaction with said entertainment apparatus; a sentence generator creating a sentence including said one or more words and based on said modified electronic dictionary word status information associated with said one or more words and adapted to a situation between a user and said entertainment apparatus, and a sentence output element for outputting a sentence generated by the sentence generator to display as a message to a user.


U.S. Patent No. 6,695,694: Game machine, game device control method, information storage medium, game distribution device, and game distribution method
Issued February 24, 2004



Summary:

The ‘694 patent describes a game many of you may know (or love??), Dance Dance Revolution (“DDR”). The patent describes the game machine which allows players to step in different positions in time with the music, and describes the game as a good form of exercise because of the energy expended by the player during game play. The patent allows for obtaining the player’s weight and calculating the accumulative energy consumption while playing the game.

Abstract:

To evaluate a game playing performance from a new point of view, a control method for controlling a game machine allowing a player to enjoy stepping while listening to game music, comprises the steps of detecting whether or not the player puts their foot or feet on each of a plurality of step positions; judging, based on a detection result on the step position, according to which, of a plurality of pattern changes, a state of the player's feet relative to the plurality of step positions has changed to; calculating, based on the determined pattern change, an energy consumption amount due to a change of the state of the player's feet; calculating an accumulative energy consumption amount by accumulating an energy consumption amount calculated after a predetermined timing; and reporting the accumulative energy consumption amount calculated to the player.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A game machine allowing a player to enjoy stepping while listening to game music, comprising: step detection means for detecting whether or not the player puts their foot or feet on each of a plurality of step positions; change judgment means for judging, based on a detection result, which of a plurality of pattern changes a state of the player's feet relative to the plurality of step positions has changed to, thereby determining a pattern change; energy consumption amount calculation means for calculating, based on the determined pattern change, an energy consumption amount due to a change of the state of the player's feet; accumulative energy consumption amount calculation means for calculating an accumulative energy consumption amount by accumulating an energy consumption amount calculated after a predetermined timing; and accumulative energy consumption amount reporting means for reporting the accumulative energy consumption amount calculated to the player


U.S. Patent No. 6,692,357: Video game apparatus and method with enhanced player object action control
Issued February 17, 2004, to Nintendo Co. Ltd.




Summary: 

The ‘357 patent describes a game storage medium that stores player and land data. The land data includes attribute data representative of shapes. The attribute data includes an action code which defines an action of the player. When the player approaches a relevant land object (e.g. a hole or a wall), the player may make an action in compliance with a detected action code and detected land object state, e.g. jump, getting over a wall, etc. When the size data of the action code (the jump) is equal to or lower than the predetermined size data of the hole, the player’s character will fall into the hole.

Abstract:

A video game apparatus includes a CPU. The CPU detects an action code of a land object existing in front of a hole. If "jump" is the action code, a height (or depth) of the hole is calculated. When the hole height is greater than a predetermined height, a jump distance is calculated for the player object, and the CPU causes the payer object to jump in accordance with that distance.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A video game apparatus for generating, and supplying to a display, an image signal to display a player object existing in the vicinity of a land object in a virtual three dimensional space by processing image data for the player object and land object, said video game apparatus comprising: a player object image data generator for generating player object image data to display a player object at various positions in said three dimensional space; a land object image data generator for generating land object image data to display a land object, said land object image data including an action code; an action code detector for detecting an action code included in said land object data of a land object having a predetermined relationship to the position of said player object, said land object including a polygon, the action code being set in said polygon; a state detector for detecting a characteristic of said land object having said action code; and animation data output circuitry for outputting animation data on said player object to cause said player object to effect a predetermined action in accordance with said action code and said characteristic of said land object.

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