Walker Digital To Sue Activision Blizzard

By John Walker on January 6th, 2011 at 4:54 pm.

Apropos of nothing, here is a picture of a troll.

Patents, eh? Aren’t they great! In a pretty spectacular act of what looks an awful lot like patent trolling, but we’re sure couldn’t possibly be, Walker Digital (no relation) are suing Zynga and Activision Blizzard for creating games that use what they claim to be their distributed electronic tournaments patent. Gamasutra and TechCrunch report that the numbers they want to claim in damages are so high they haven’t thought of them yet, but say they’ll have finished counting by the trial.

This is the same company who a month ago filed a suit against Facebook, the site having so maliciously infringed another of Walker Digital’s patents: “A system for establishing anonymous communications includes a plurality of party terminals, a plurality of requester terminals, and a central controller.”

Now their latest lawsuit makes allegations against Activision Inc., Activision Publishing, Activision Blizzard, Blizzard Entertainment, and for fun, Zynga, for 24 of their products that apparently infringe their ideas. So the Modern Warfares, Golden Eye, of course World Of Warcraft, and even DJ Hero 2 are named, along with Zynga’s Mafia Wars. And if this is successful, presumably every online game from every publisher in the last decade.

Walker Digital, according to their website, are discovering the DNA of new business systems. Which is quite a breakthrough in both industry and biology, and presumably means they’ve discovered that businesses are in fact evolved lifeforms. But someone like Activision will only go and copy this, knowing them. Any rumours that Walker Digital is the name of my robot brother are strenuously denied.

This latest patent is described as,

“A method and a system for a distributed electronic tournament system in which many remotely located players participate in a tournament through input/output devices connected to a central controller which manages the tournament.”

It was filed in 2001. Let’s see who can comment with the best examples of this technology before 2001. That would be mean of us. Go!

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72 Comments »

  1. Pijama says:

    Man… Diablo I would be a better target then?

  2. Paul says:

    I can’t believe we as a species still haven’t abandoned the idea that idea is scarce and should be limited in abundance to whoever manages to register it first. Aliens have to consider us retards.

    • Wulf says:

      You have no idea.

      Haha, sorry. But you’re right, it’s a fairly ridiculous thing, isn’t it? Scarcity of the Idea, Scarcity of Digital Media, Scarcity of Thought, Scarcity even of the Spoken/Sung word. But hey, welcome to Capitalism. That’s how it works currently, it’s not great, but it’s all we have until someone comes up with something better. And that inevitably has to happen.

    • Jhoosier says:

      I wouldn’t say it’s an inevitability…

    • Xercies says:

      The thing is there are many ideas already out there that could be better then capitalism but no one wants to change the status quo because it would be to much hassle and Humans don’t really like change anyway.

    • BAReFOOt says:

      Actually, yes, it’s inevitable. Because of the simple fact that what they are trying, is physically impossible. Scarcity of something that you give away only works, if what you give away can not be copied a trillion times in a second and passed on to everyone and his dog, without you having any control over it! ;)
      I’ve thought this trough to the end, and they would need to completely shut down the Internet, before they could get any relevant control. Because as long as it stands, a single person with a tunnelling proxy can stop them all. And when they shut it down, we can still use ad-hoc WLAN networks in cities, or just go back to trading media like in the old times.

      So they are up against a hydra with as many heads as basically the whole world, including futuristic super-weapons mounted to their every heads. And all they got is a couple of ban-hammers and swords. (And no, they don’t have a narrow trench like the Spartans. In fact they are surrounded and in a pit.)

  3. sneetch says:

    Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the lawyers of patents.

    Seriously, this seems insane. Weren’t there computer game tournaments before 2001?

  4. Jambe says:

    A method and a system for a system. Mm.

  5. Rob Hale says:

    Sounds like it’s a patent on online tournaments rather than just online games.

    Earliest game I remember playing that had Tournaments managed by a central server was C&C: Tiberian Sun which was in 1999

  6. Meat Circus says:

    (no relation)

    Chinny Reckon.

  7. Sodiano says:

    Quake surely?

  8. Ajh says:

    Starcraft and battle.net were around before 2001. I believe they fall under this don’t they? Online poker existed before 2000 as well….

    Why do companies do this crap? Does it work sometimes?

  9. Wolfox says:

    I hope Activision CRUSHES Walker Digital (which will probably happen). I’m not saying doing what EA did to Edge Games. I’m saying doing what the Death Star did to Alderaan. :-)

    • Jimmeh says:

      They are probably already one step ahead of you with “a system for atomising planets and other orbital bodies through the use of laser beam systems” patent.

    • Wolfox says:

      In that case, I hope an advanced alien civilization appears not only showing prior art, but demonstrating it on whoever made that patent. :-D

    • SanguineAngel says:

      @Jimmeh: That look for too specific a patent. It is probably something more along the lines of “a system or method for atomising, partial atomising or physically altering planets and other orbital bodies through the use of any system or method”

  10. Rich says:

    “discovering the DNA of new business”
    I hate phrases like that so much it gives me energy.

  11. Hides-His-Eyes says:

    It’s an absolute joke what passes for a patent these days. You shoudl see what gets granted in electronics for example. I’ve seen “the use of a single wire as both an input and output to an effects processor”, which I personally feel includes the Low Pass Filter.

  12. int says:

    That’s not serious.

    The founder’s name is Jay Walker.

    Jay. Walker.

  13. Mr Chug says:

    Surely Modern Warfare 2 is exempt due to its lack of dedicated servers? The central controller would also be one of the remote players. At least it’s good for something other than bad press.

    Still, these guys must have Edge-class balls for going after 2 giants. Should be fun to watch.

  14. zeekthegeek says:

    Yay, another company that does literally nothing besides Patent Trolling.

  15. TenjouUtena says:

    NetTrek anyone? Battle.NET obviously counts. Let’s see…. I think GameSpy was around then, right?

  16. Sweedums says:

    I love how all the activision hate has kinda gone out the window… i guess theres always a bigger asshole?

    on another note, why are people ever allowed to file such vague patents? especially when the thing that is being patented has, as many of you have pointed out, been around for a good few years beforehand….

    • Dreamhacker says:

      Whu-? The Acti-Blizzard hate is alive and kicking, it’s the EA hate that went away.

    • Navagon says:

      EA destroyed Langdell so utterly they deserve some credit. Unfortunately ActiBlizz are already so lawsuit happy that them destroying these trolls won’t be nearly as impressive.

      @ Sweedums

      Microsoft successfully filed one for the page up and page down keys not so very long ago. Needless to say they weren’t the first to come up with such a thing and the patent should have expired long before it was won. All in all it’s bloody ludicrous.

    • drewski says:

      @ Sweedums – so many patents are filed every year that there simply aren’t the resources to deeply check the validity of them. Does what it says on the box? Granted.

    • Sweedums says:

      @dreamhacker – phew! got a bit worried there :P good to know theres still some hate going around

  17. caliwyrm says:

    I would certainly think that many of the old BBS door games would be prior art.. Legend of the Red Dragon, Interstellar Annihilation, Yankees and Rednecks, etc.

  18. Mr_Hands says:

    Myth II had a fair few online tournaments, too.

    Complete with replays and, maybe I’m misremembering… Commentary?

  19. Soon says:

    Radio phone-in quiz?

  20. Dreamhacker says:

    How about some distributed electronic tournaments DOS attacks?

  21. InVinoVeritas says:

    I want to encourage anyone who hasn’t clicked the link and read through the patent to do so. Some of the diagrams are PRICELESS. Thank you RPS for bringing some amusement to my otherwise mundane work day.

  22. noom says:

    I filed a patent on “ideas constructed through the use of thought” some years ago. I should probably start cashing on that badboy soon.

  23. Highforge says:

    I remember playing a star trek 2d spaceships tournament game against kids on other computers on my middle school’s network in 1989 on an apple or a mac.

    That may not qualify. But certainly Sniper / Subspace was beta in 1995 and running league tournaments by 1996-1997 with hundreds of people over a modem.

    Subspace Wiki

  24. frymaster says:

    WARNING. The description is not the patent.

    The description says this is about an electronic tournament. This doesn’t mean they’ve patented the concept of elecronic tournaments, it means they’ve patented a specific way of doing them. Merely citing the existence of electronic tournaments before 2001 doesn’t necessarily constitute prior art.

    • bob_d says:

      The patent is so broad that essentially they are claiming a patent on all electronic game tournaments. They describe the basic process by which any centralized online game that requires registration and payment to be a part of, would hold tournaments. Specifically it’s a system for game tournaments with cash prizes, but they’re conveniently ignoring that bit; the problem is that what’s left is a generic descriptor of any pay-to-play online game, which pre-date the patent by some years.

    • Starky says:

      The description is meaningless – there could be 100 patents with the words “a method of networking 2 or more processing devices” and they will all be happily sitting side by side, because the body of the patent will describe more specifics.

      As for the patent itself, I can’t be arsed to read it because they are always meaningless garbage – but if it is too vague, it will simply be thrown out as frivolous by any court.

      Getting a patent granted is one thing (easy and meaningless), successfully using it/defending it in a court is quite another(expensive, difficulty and very meaningful).

  25. Caleb367 says:

    Apparently, the new DNA of business is to throw ridiculous lawsuits around instead of, you know, doing something. Langdell’s been a pioneer fomr someone.

    (Besides, this reminds me of several years ago, when a uber-megacorp (Monsanto? Can’t tell) tried registering a patent on bread and then suing bakeries in South America for copyright infringement)

  26. Navagon says:

    I just had a look at one of the patents and yes – confirmed beyond all doubt – PATENT TROLL!

  27. Coins says:

    I never understood patents much, but they can’t be serious?! It’s so silly it hurts.

  28. Ricc says:

    A “distributed electronic tournament” … sounds pretty unreal. Almost like an Unreal Tournament, one could say.

  29. Latterman says:

    seen their “innovations” tab?

    it’s
    casino
    lottery
    vending
    airlines
    magazines
    retail.

    my hopes are on a flying Vegas-styled Barbershop.

  30. Jahandar says:

    We were doing this in Quake 1 and that came out in what, 1996?

  31. Starky says:

    This is yet more proof patents are a stupid and broken things – whatever benefit they had is long lost, and they now actually stifle innovation in the west, why the west? Because China don’t give a flying fuck about western patents, especially in Electronics – and if you file a patent you have to exactly describe your idea/method/invention along with technical documentation.

    Which is publicly accessible (for a small fee), so you may as well just post your schematics/design on the internet.

    The only people who use patents now (a costly bloated horrid system) are Big companies and trolls – Big companies use them on the idea of Mutually Assured Destruction – that is they patent so much crap that if another company with a similar product (Apple vs palm for example) try to raise a fuss, you can counter sue them.
    It’s also used by patent trolls like this.

    A patent isn’t worth a penny if you don’t have the millions of dollars/pounds it would take to defend it should you need too. It also carries a VERY high risk of some Chinese company just stealing your design, putting it into mass production and then flooding your market.

    Most small scale Electrical Engineering inventors/designers are starting to actively rebel ignore patents, and instead use an open licence like creative commons for the parts they want to make public, and then purposely using methods to prevent reverse engineering (or at least make it just as costly as designing the same thing from scratch) – things like using parts with no identification, sealing key components in epoxy (so that they’d be broken by removing them), encrypted firmware, the works.
    Nothing can stop RE, but it can be made difficult and expensive.

    Point is more and more in the electronics industry are turning against patents, advising small businesses against them, they are junk.

    Expensive junk that offers about as much protection as a paper helmet.

    • bill says:

      I think the idea of having to publish your method/schematics was to benefit others. After your patent expires it would help others to build on your work. But there seems to be a problem with patents not expiring – plus being granted for general processes rather than specific creations. So it all falls down.

  32. Delusibeta says:

    And on the subject of potentially dumb patients, apparently IBM have applied to patent patenting. http://www.tomshardware.com/news/ibm-patents-the-patent,11868.html

  33. Freud says:

    I wish someone would have patented frivolous lawsuits.

  34. Tei says:

    Stupid software patents.

    I hate , HATE, *HATE* the software patents. Is the most stupid and random thing on this world.

  35. kit89 says:

    It is the Client/Server model with encryption and it allows one specific type of client to allow another specified client if they are allowed to access the information provided by the original client.

    This process is used everywhere from chat systems, to your standard web server.

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  37. Rustkill says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Total_Entertainment_Network – “The service offered PC game players a place to play DOS and Windows-based games online with and against other players, to chat, to download game-related content, and to compete for high scores and to win tournaments.”

    I remember playing ARC using TEN. Good times.

  38. Jezebeau says:

    This is what happens when you patent on the honor system.

  39. bill says:

    I’m not sure about how US/UK patent systems work – but the Japanese system seems interesting (in theory at least).

    You pay a small initial price to get a very quick patent that lasts for a short time. Then, if you want to extend that patent you have to pay a much higher fee a few years later to have a thorough investigation into it’s validity. Then there seems to be an annual fee that increases exponentially.

    The idea is that small companies can get a relatively quick and cheap patent, and then try and turn their idea into a workable product/business model. Then, if they think it’s worth it, they have to pay a lot more to make it a long term patent. But as the price keeps increasing, at some point it stops being worth it to pay for the exclusivity, and they end up releasing the patent. (and filing means that the info enters the public domain).

    I suspect it doesn’t work, due to the bureaucracy, but it seems like the way is SHOULD work.

    The problem, of course, is that different products have different lifecycles, but patent systems tend to be set up on the assumption that everything is the same. Making a new drug takes 15 years of research and a lot of cash, so I can see the fairness in granting a patent with a longer lifespan, but many IT and software methods advance so quickly that anything over a few years can stifle innovation.

    Do patent trolls in the US have to pay recurring fees to keep them valid, or is it just a one time thing?

    • Ovno says:

      If I remeber rightly thats how it works with uk patents too, its £60 for the first year £120 for the second and so on, or at least thats what they told me at school…..

  40. iainl says:

    As far as I can see, they’re essentially saying that the central servers that control your levelling are the relevant ones.

    Surely this also covers the XBox Live servers, and the PSN ones, and EA’s Online Pass ones for that matter? Blactivision, All four in a smack-down on this troll will be _entertaining_.

  41. rhade2k@gmail.com says:

    Patents.. geh.

  42. Joshua says:

    Hmm, lets see.
    Starcraft
    Netmech
    Need for Speed
    Ultima Online
    Half Life
    Ultima Online.
    Diablo

    etc.

  43. Malixu says:

    Does Core War, from 1984 count? Maybe it’s too simple… how about Nettrek, from 1988?

    Fine. How about any MUD (1980s onwards)?

    Last one, I swear: Meridian 59, from 1996?

    I lied, here’s more: Legend of the Red Dragon, 1989. See also, “CIX, Compuserve, early AOL Online, BBS games (doors), PBEMs

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