White Knuckle IP, LLC v. Electronic Arts, Inc.
US District Court for the District of Utah
Filed January 16, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* "Wrigley Field 400 foot sign" by flickr user jimcchou - Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
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Ross Dannenberg

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