Thursday, June 19, 2014

New SCOTUS decision could affect RPG patent

The United States Supreme Court just issued a decision invalidating patents on 'abstract ideas' in computer patents.

From the article:
Alice attempted to prove that its patents were more than just an idea by pointing to the specific software steps that it had to carry out. But the court found that these steps weren't ultimately much more than "stating an abstract idea while adding the words 'apply it with a computer.'" The claims "simply recite the concept of intermediated settlement as performed by a generic computer. They do not, for example, purport to improve the functioning of the computer itself or effect an improvement in any other technology or technical field." Each of the steps that Alice described were basic computer functions like adjusting account balances, keeping records, and issuing automated instructions, and the finished product didn't transform them into something more than the obvious sum of their parts.
In other words, exactly the kind of thing our recent RPG patent troublemaker is attempting. UH's patent application has been struct down repeatedly by the office on the grounds of being too abstract already, it's based heavily on reams of prior art, and as well their biggest defense (when they can stick to it) seems to be to claim that it's all about doing it 'on a computer.'

Certainly doesn't look good for them at all.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Following up on the patent issue

Yesterday I wrote a post detailing a pending patent application with potentially grave consequences for the RPG hobby and industry alike.

That post has since garnered over 2200 views, and has a +168.

More than that, it's been posted across G+, theRPGsite, RPGnet, reddit, Stack Exchange, Story-Games, been shared by RPGnet's Twitter account, and probably more than my limited tracking can keep up with. Dozens of comments have been posted to the Unlimited Horizons Facebook page, though many have since been deleted by the page owner.

On the legal front, at least one individual that I know of, and possibly more have filed third-party comments on the patent application, a step I encourage anyone with the capability to do. I've also been informed that CCP Games' legal department has been forwarded information on the patent.

I have been floored by the response from the RPG community. To a one, and despite the insinuations  the UH representative, you have all been reasonable, intelligent, and impassioned without being hostile. It has been a wonderful thing to behold.

The creator, meanwhile, sticks to his guns in claiming to be merely protecting his interests and following the advice of their legal counsel. I find the latter claim to be suspect (why hire a patent lawyer if you weren't looking to file a patent?), but as to the former, well, consider this me protecting my interests. He has his resources (one estimate I've seen indicates he's spent nearly $2,000 in patent fees alone, plus the cost of that patent lawyer), so I have used the one available to me: my voice.

I am a creator, but I am a creator who creates on the backs of giants who came before me. I do not wish to see this hobby or this industry become the same kind of legal battlefield that I see in the tech and software industries, and such an atmosphere would seriously hamper the entire development of this hobby. RPGs are an iterative field, and cutting off that kind of development, especially with such shameless tactics, is unacceptable.

This is bigger than me. Even if I truly believed the author is indeed merely an innocent and naive creator seeking only to protect his works from theft, was pure of heart and mind and never once would abuse the power such a broad and appropriative patent, it still sets a dangerous precedent. What happens when the next guy comes along who isn't so nice?

The RPG community has spoken in response, loud and clear, that this is absolutely unacceptable practice. If you haven't already, and are able, please submit comment on the patent application while there is still time. And make it known by whatever means you can to the creator and the audience that this behavior will not be tolerated or profitable for those who would attempt it.

Here's the instructions for third-party comment:

And the relevant form:

Thank you all for your support, we're all in this together.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Patent trolling comes to RPGs

So it's come to light in a recent Q&A session on Dan Davenport's #rpgnet channel that someone is attempting to patent RPG conversions.

[20:54] <+AJofUniversalHorizons> So far we have about 800+ original artworks, 4 Registered TMs, and a patent for changing genres. We hope to be here a long time!
[20:54] <+xyphoid> A patent on a rpg mechanic? Can you tell us more about that?
[20:56] <+AJofUniversalHorizons> Not in a few mins… also, it get to be law-speak gibberish very quickly.
[20:56] <~Dan> What (if any) game systems inspired you?
[20:57] <+AJofUniversalHorizons> IN essence, it’s a process patent for paper and online applications for transferring virtual entities from one genre to another.
Transcript here:
More transcript from after the initial Q&A here:

You can find the application here:

And here:

According to Wikipedia:
In the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), third parties may submit prior art relevant to a published patent application within two months of said publication or before a notice of allowance is given, whichever comes first. In contrast to European practice, however, third parties are not allowed to provide any additional explanation of the relevance of the prior art. The USPTO requires a fee.[7]
The application was filed in February, so if I'm reading this right it may be the case that what little public comment phase is available in the US process may be over.

EDIT: The preceding strikethrough section is apparently wrong, see the comments below, there's still a small window left for third-party comment on the application. Thanks to Robert for pointing it out.

Here's the instructions for third-party comment:

And the relevant form:

It's still an application, so it's still possible that a patent clerk might see through the obfuscatory language and attempts to make it sound like a software patent instead of a game mechanic one, but I confess to being a bit unhopeful on that regard. There's loads of prior art in terms of existing products obviously, but I would not be surprised if patent review fails to even find any given how thoroughly cryptic the description is.

I'm not certain at this point whether the author is a crazy person or an asshole, or just harmlessly clueless, but the potential effect is the same. Contrary to popular belief,  there is history of game mechanics being patentable, at least in software:
And I did find discussion of it in boardgames here:

There's also the famous Wizards patent on 'tapping' cards to consider. To my knowledge not many, if any, have attempted it for RPG mechanics, and it may be rejected as too abstract. I'm not feeling especially hopeful, though, and I don't think it's wise to dismiss it out of hand. If this went through it would give the author a beatstick to go after decades of games (including some of mine). If he's evil enough to stick to small fry and doesn't risk going after someone like Wizards or CCP/White Wolf (the latter of which have actually published quite a bit of prior art on the subject), he might even get away with it for some time, just like the Edge Games guy got away with it for so long by only going after indie video game publishers.

If you are aware of and capable of acting on any mechanism to fight it, I highly advise you do so at your earliest convenience.

If you wish to comment to the publisher, you can find their Facebook group here: Their email address is also given in the text of the transcript linked above.