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Realtime Gaming Patent... 91

Whizard wrote in about a new patent on realtime synchronous actions over the Internet that could applied either to games or to medical operations over the Net. The description makes it look like another exercise in patenting the obvious, but would anybody care to analyse it and give us a rundown on what is now prohibited without a license? They do happen to have a client and a server running on Linux.
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Realtime Gaming Patent...

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  • Prior art or prior use does not invalidate a patent. Prior art is simply ammunition to give to your lawyer so that he can try to invalidate some of the specific claims.

    That, and you have to also give the lawyer lots of money.

    The problem is, the individual or open-source developers have neither money nor lawyers.

    So, we are doomed.

    - T
  • The disadvantage is that you can't do anything illegal?! You can't secretly use patented code; You can't slyly break the law; Think about that a second. There's a criminal mind at work.
  • Posted by Dacre:

    Well, the patent issue wont die, but Linux game developers may be pleased to hear that the company will support Linux as a platform. tml

  • Not nessicarly.

    If you use a patent they need to sue you.

    Okay, so they sue you. You get a lawyer, and then while they are suing you, you counter sue, claiming in your counter suit that they should have known about the prior art you are claiming, therefore they shoudl pay all your court and lawyer fees.

    Since you don't have money you can really lose.

  • It suddenly occures to me that the US has different views from most of the world, (in this case we are right) in most countries prior art counts for little against a pantant. If I invent something and then you pantent it, I own the pantant in the US just as soon as it goes to court. (and if you can't afford to fight it, offer a competor a license to your pantant for dirt cheep, they just need to get it for you)

    In many countres that is not true. If I invent something and you pantant it you own it. Therefore please check local laws before considering anything on here.

    After some thought I think that software pantants would be okay, if they weren't covering obvious things. The concept of the wheel is not pantantable, but a specific wheel might be. Right now everyone is discovering the wheel, and then the axel and other obvious things. the obvious needs to settle out before pantants are awarded.

  • The counter suit solves that for you. Lawyers will take up a case just like that where if they lose they don't get paid. It gives them an incentive for winning.

    You've never heard of accident lawyers that run a deal where if they win they get a cut, if they lose you pay nothing? Basicaly the same deal. I'm sure you could find a lawyer(or a whole pack of laywers) that would be willing to take the risk. Especially if it meant big bucks.


  • Yay! Screw RTIME, Ultima 6 rocks!

    But seriously, I don't have a whole lot of experience with graphics (drawing or code, but less with drawing) but I'd love an Ultima 6-style game for Linux, multiplayer or no...

    (in fact, isn't there a project like that already? I guess we're not the only ones, then... :)
  • Sounds like a job for the Dining cryptographers problem!

  • by sjames ( 1099 )

    sounded a lot like round robin DNS + mirroring + multicast routing of web media. Hardly a new concept.

  • by X ( 1235 )
    Can someone post a link to the entryin the IBM patent database? I couldn't find it, but from what I read of the press release, there is so much prior art on this it's laughable. Heck, I can think of *RFC's* that cover some of the areas mentiond.

    Things which come to mind: NTP, IIP, various VRML technologies, multicaste IP, etc. Why is it that the Patent Office turns technology into such a joke?

    Oh, and I love how this was all part of a government contract.
  • by X ( 1235 )
    DCE does most of this as well. Basically, all this stuff is age-old distributed computing stuff. To think the patent office would grant this is nothing short of increadible.
  • At html [] they've got a (Windows only) demo game called RTIME Rocks! available for download to show off their innovative new technology. Has anyone tried this yet? Alas, I won't have access to a Windows box until I get home from work.

    My bullshit detector immediately glowed bright red as I read the first sentence on the demo page:

    The first real-time, fast action game available over the Internet!
    Ummmm, no.

    The Linux Game Tome []
  • Patents aren't awarded instantly, they take years. The first implementation of this was 1989 according to their web site. So, any prior art has to be prior to 1989 - NOT prior to the issue of the patent. Now, I don't know when nettrek or these other games were doing this, but if it wasn't before 1989 then it's not prior art, and the patent is perfectly within it's rights.

    Having said all that - I totally disagree with software patents. OK?
  • IBM has been watching too many episodes of "Pinky and the Brain". I'm just not sure which character they're playing.

    Basically, as I read it, the patent basically covers web caching, all Ubermuds, Tinymushes, LP-MUDs, LambdaMOO and multicasting.

    The patent exclusively covers servers and clients that deal with more than one application. That means that it does not cover games such as Netrek or Empire, which are single applications. Nor does it cover Xtank, as that does not have "clients". On the other hand, it DOES cover programmable MUDs.

    It ALSO covers multicasting and web caches which can also cache FTP and/or Gopher connections, as that would satisfy the multiple application & network efficiency requirements.

    In short, this patent is worryingly generalised, and DEFINITELY covers and subsumes technology which is very definitely both Prior Art and Public Domain.

  • This has been done in network games like Netrek for years. Many claims in the patent are questionable.
  • Yup,

    After reading the description of the patent I immediately realized just how much of this has been implemented in Netrek.

    Not recently either, this has been around for 10 years or more.

    Pathetic... I'm going to send them a letter along with one to the patent office.

    Netrek Client/Server coding geek
  • DCE had distributed time service since about 10 years ago. That's prior art. no?

  • I notice these guys are in part basing their patent on patent US5659691 "Virtual reality network with selective distribution and updating of data to reduce bandwidth requirements" which really pisses me off because *that* patent refers to an article I wrote in 1992(!!) for my Cyberterm project that talks about these very things.

    I obtained some lengthy legal advice from a patent attorney regarding this earlier patent and, like this new one, these guys don't have a leg to stand on. Basically, to infringe their patent you'd have to build a system that copies every one of the features they mention. Miss just one or two (like Cyberterm does, because they're stupid ideas) and there's no problem. Also, as many people here have mentioned, there're many cases of "prior art" for this genre.

    The ironic thing is that a patent is allowed to be based on public knowledge and other patents, just as long as it is a unique and new combination of those other techniques.

    Yeah, it pisses me off a lot...
  • IANAL, but...

    The patent seems to focus on client-server-network-server-client situations (multiple clients, multiple interacting servers), which does not seem to cover games like Quake or Doom, since they are client-server-client (i.e. multiple clients connect to a single server).

    Even Ultima Online does not have interacting servers - at least not in the sense the patent intends the servers to interact. Each UO server is a closed world.

    Prey might come close to meeting the claims of the patent, since there someone attached to one server could shoot someone on another server.

    IRC has already been mentioned as prior art for the patent (#channels == zone of interest).

    But anyway, there's nothing in the patent a good engineer wouldn't develop in the course of developing a heavily distributed system (think Quake for 2000 players, for example).
  • Well, after reading the whole thing, I can't
    really say it looks like IRC.

    You can't really refer to nicks as "objects with
    positional data", for instance, as well as
    consider them "participant stations in a zone
    of interest" (channel)

    And, while zone of interest (channel) does filter
    out only the interesting messages to a
    participant, IRC also does not decide how much
    information to send based on bandwidth. If
    you join too many channels, or request a /list
    and /names at the same time, you get flooded off.

    I think the comparason to nettrek would be more
    valid. Quake probably does the same, although
    thats a closed system. It'd be nice to see a few
    of the FPS game companies rip these guys a new

  • This sounds a lot like what the QuakeWorld developers did a long time ago. They made net quake *totally* playable over 28kb modems.

    And what was that bit near the beginning about 'postcards'? Is that their *PATENTED* term for a network packet, or just a typo? Hmph.


    Nobody's doomed. Things'll work out fine. These folks will either have a legitimate technological advance to offer (doubt it), or they'll tread carefully so as not to draw undue attention from the open source crowd while they pick the pockets of game companies and consumers who don't know any better.

    When duty calls, the open source community will protect its interests in high style. If we have to pass a (Red?) hat, we will, but I *REALLY* doubt anything will come of this.
  • They're just patenting the IDEA of solving the hard problem(s).

    Why I oughta...

  • I've read through the description on IBM's patent server, and while I'm not a lawyer nor a patent expert, this patent seems impossibly general. It says very little despite its length; the length is more devoted to extending the generality further. Also, they're not patenting a technique, but a concept; there is very little detail in the patent as to how exactly any of this is done.

    The claims are astoundingly verbose and hard to decypher even for a patent, but as far as I can tell they are:

    A distributed environment comprised of multiple servers, each may have many users. To save bandwidth, information is sent only once per server rather than duplicated for each user. The communications may be multicast or point-to-point. The environment can support applications. There is a global timebase, and every event is timestamped.

    Users specify what information they're interested in, and events have parameters which can be filtered on. Only information the user's interested on will be sent to them. The system can be object oriented, and objects can have types, which can be used to filter.

    Events and objects in the system may have position, priority, data rate etc associated with them, and these can be used to filter on.

    The priorities of multiple users on a server can be coalesced into groups for easier filtering.

    Information sent to a remote server can be pre-filtered by the sender according to its knowledge of the remote server's needs, bandwidth. Also, information recieved by a server is filtered to remove unwanted info.

    Servers can be grouped according to shared preferences.

    The multi-user environment can be grouped into regions, where at least one server administers each region. Regions can overlap and there is the concept of 'neighboring' regions. Filtering based on this geographic knowledge. Regions may be grouped. Does this sound patentable to YOU?

  • Yours is the first report I have ever heard from inside the USPTO. If the case is going to be made that the patent office is out of control and awarding bogus patents, then we need as many "war stories" as we can get our hands on.

    Please, describe your experiences at the USPTO. Encourage your colleagues there to come forward and describe the process, the rules and pressures under which they work, and their own stories. What do they do when confronted with an application whose technology they simply don't understand? Are they allowed to seek consultation from outside?


  • by craw ( 6958 )
    I believe that many of us think that the patenting of software and algorithms is getting out of control. To fully appreciate the severity of the problem, one should go to the US Patent and Trademark Office Web site. Once there, one can then do an advanced search []

    Trying entering an/microsoft or ttl/"data compression". It get pretty depressing to see what has been patented. Here's one of my favorites from microsoft.

    Activation control of a speech recognizer through use of a pointing device


    A speech recognition system includes a facility for toggling the state of the speech recognition system solely in response to a user using a pointing input device, such as a mouse. In one embodiment of the present invention, a user designates a predetermined area of a display surface on a video display to be a hot region. When a mouse cursor points to a location within the hot region, the speech recognition system is put in a listening state wherein the speech recognition system is listening for and processing audio input. When the mouse cursor is moved so as to no longer lie within the designated hot region, the state of the speech recognition system is changed back to the state that immediately preceded the listening state. Blah, blah, blah, you get the idea.

    BTW, this was applied for in 1995 and was awarded in 1999. There is probably some similar patent except that the user has to click a mouse button.

    Things are going to get worse. The courts and the computer industry are going to be tied up in patent disputes for a long time. Want some career advice? Become a patent lawyer specializing in computers.

  • No, the free software world is not doomed. The reason is that a patent is merely a license to sue. The plaintiff (the patent holder) must prove that you've infringed, and that the patent is valid. In a large fraction of cases, the patent gets tossed out, partly because the patent office has been doing such a bad job.

    If you are using techniques that you can prove existed before the patent filing date, they can't touch you. They can take you to court if they like; if so, perhaps we should start talking about free software legal defense arrangements that will not only defend people, but countersue.

    The risk you are taking is that if they can show you knew about the patent, you infringed anyway and they win in court, monetary damages are tripled.

    Getting a patent removed from the books costs $$$. But you don't have to do that.

    The bogus patents are merely annoying. What can be really crippling is the strong patents that can't easily be shown to be invalidated by prior art or worked around.

  • To patent something the something can't have been in public domain for more then a year. Meaning you can have a product out on the shelves and be like oh shit I want to patent that and you can if it has not been out for more then a year. That is how they get away with patent pending. Now telling people to shut up is not nice at all. Hope you feel like the jerk now.

  • Well, it's been awhile since my high school government class, but isn't an act of Congress required before the federal government may be sued? I don't think that anyone stands a chance of getting that. A much better tactic would be simply lobbying the Congress to outlaw patents on intangible objects (business models, software, mathematics equations, genetic coding, etc.).
  • and that was my first thought too... if they try to interpret their own patent as applying to common distributed things done on the net, IRC is a clear documented example of it and it's been going on for about 10 years.
  • Maybe I'm missing something but I made two passes over the patent text and couldn't get something straight. What do they mean by "zones of interest"?
    While I keep on broad english I may try to get the idea of what this could mean. However we are talking about computers and things related to them. They do not define any boundaries on what is a zone. Nor they specify what could mean interest.

    Some of you may hate me for what follows but think a little bit on maths and try to link the plain english of the patent. They speak about zones. Well that may mean in the computer world a numeric boundary (ex. [-1,1]). Meanwhile while we humans may understand infinite boundaries, comps can only digere _discrete_ ones (due to their 0,1 logic). So on whatever boundary you talk about, you must be very careful to _translate_ it into the computer world. There are several methods and technologies to do it. Depending on what you're trying to translate. So here we go to the term of "interest".

    So what's that "interest" all about? Psychological interest? Well please tell me how you do that. Fuzzy logic? Neuron systems? Anything else? Anyway what is "interest" by itself?

    There is also another problem with this "interest" game and its limits. They talk about a server defining a zone of interest. Well what do you mean by server? A computer? A program? A beowulf cluster? Without defining the boundaries and term "interest" I can't get up to what boundaries you're talking about. Well maybe you can hold 100 guys. Maybe 1000. Maybe even the whole population of Earth and somebody else. Without boundary definitions this patent is void in its sense. It's pure verbality.

    Well guys. Let's define a new name for Internet: Zone of interest.
  • Wouldn't going after Redhat be essentially the same as going after CompUSA or Fry's for selling it? Remember Redhat does not sell free software, all they do is distrubute a product that they sell support for.

    It would be like M$ sueing all those MCSE's for getting windows to work, and if that happened I would be out of a job

    Budda_Z I am Just using M$ till EA's NHL franchise is available or replaced by something on Linux

  • After reading the abstract it seems to me that this is a patent of computer communications in a VERY broad sense. It almost seems as if the web would fall under this patent (along with just about everything else on the Internet). Would someone care to clarify, because I might have missed something important..
  • FYI to all those that are 'flaming' the patent examiners.

    Each examiner has quotas to meet on there applications. For a GS7 it is about 4 for a G 9 it is about 5 and as they get higher and higher up the scale there quotas go up to. What this means is that they get promoted and have more work to do and less time to do a good job on it. It is "ASSUMED" that the examier is skilled in the art.

    Well some are and some are rubber stamping people.

    It is dificult to do what they do and do a good job. I know I used ot do it and it sucked butt.

    They hire almost anyone with a technical degree background. Typically enginering or science.

    They teach them patent law over time, but it is just not an effective system. IT IS MAJORLY FLAWED.

    1) There is no way that an examier I don't care how long he has been in the USPTO will know everything about there specific technology.
    2) Computers are NEW to the USPTO. I was there in 1996 and they were having problems on weather or not examiers should answer email and if there should be a set time limit. Many examiners were just getting computer in 1996 and hated the things. (??? a-- backwards??)
    3) People who are that new to computers and just learning windows were working on Patents for software. They couldn't figure out Windows 95. ??? Please !!!!

    These are people that are working on software patents and they can't even use computers. How are they supposed to know about network technology????

    Now about hte patent. They are talking about distributed processing. It sounds like something related to Beowulf, or on the lines of parallel pprocessing??? I just looked at the first claim and it looks pretty long, so there may have been a case that someone did not fully understand it and issued it, and said let the laywers fight it out in court. This happens too.

    My suggestion is keep on programming, and use CVS and back it up. Keep records if you think that something you are working on may be of question.

    They may chose not to enforce there patent. They may have just got a patent so that they could continue doing what they are doing and just ot have 'official' record that they were the first.
  • The one thing I would be interested in is in
    which way these patents would apply in Europe.

    In Europe it is NOT possible to enforce patents or
    even file them, if:

    - They cover software - software patents are only
    valid in the rare case that the software is part of a bigger system with an existence in real life
    (which basically means controlling software for
    robots for example)
    - They cover mathematical algorithms

    This would actually invalidate 99% of US
    software patents inside Europe. There is an
    agreement though that patents of other countries
    are respected but on the other hand it is impossible to enforce US right on Europe. The
    agreement about patents was once created under
    the condition that also the rules they have to
    follow will one day be unified - which hadnt happened yet...

    Anyway, the current situation of the law makes
    it impossible for an American company to enforce
    software patents on a company which is based
    in Europe...

    Should the unification of the IP and patent right really come one day, I hope they will in this case finally decide against software patents...
  • I'll admit, I only skimmed the thing, and IANAL, but it looked to me like it was a patent only on the specific programs and methods of Internet networking that they used. I could be wrong, but it would probably be best not to get all excited and angry until someone who is a lawyer can take a look and see what they think.
  • Oh my God, I think one of the "inventors" used to be a roommate of mine!

    I'll have to try to get back in touch with him, maybe ask for a loan....
  • While you can certainly point to lots of systems which do similar things, the question is whether they do it in the same way.

    Some things, like only sending people stuff they're interested in, almost certainly has prior art (QuakeWorld may be early enough). Their backbone stuff looks a lot like IP multicast and a little like IRC. Unreal uses the importance of events to determine network priority in bandwidth limited situations, but it certainly post-dates this patent.

    The other stuff about keeping a unified timebase over all clients on multiple servers with different network latencies is *HARD* and if they've got a good solution they deserve a patent.

    On the other hand, a closer reading of the claims leads me to believe that they haven't solved the hard problem.

  • 1) A patent has to be controllable, that means, they will have to prove you actually use their patent if anything goes to court. How are they planning to do that?

    2) claims 2-54 are subclaims of claim one. If your game/whatever does not fall under claim one, it certainly does not fall under 2-54.

    3) occurences of ``at least one'' local client/participant give possibilities: use one dumb server without clients -> No violation. (Does it really read ``at least one ...''? Yes. Can't believe it, always write ``any number of ...'')

    4) occurences of ``plurality'' give possiblities to ``single'' application environments and such (or am I misinterpreting the word plurality here?)

    5) Forget the abstract. Only the claims are valid. For instance, where in claim one is ``Seamless multi-server management'' desribed? I only see multiple servers...
  • Unfortunatly, it's not legal, since I'm pretty much the only one who's seen it.

    A year ago I programmed something that's pretty much exactly what's described in the patent: A server that manages multiple clients in multiple zones, and synchronizes only the information that needs to be synchronized. It even handles seamless interaction between zone boundries. If they sue me when I release my game.... There will be blood.

    Of course, it will be easy to prove that my code in no way is derived from theirs, as it depends on absolutly no external libraries, and I have all the source code nice and readable. But I'd still have to go to court, and I'd rather code than deal with that shit.

    Incidentally, are there any artists out there who want to help with graphics for an Ultima 6 styled massive multiplayer game? (There will be a Linux version... and Win32, MacOS, BeOS) : )
  • IRC might count as prior art for the part of the patent covering seamless distributed servers.

    Disclaimer: I only skimmed the abstract of the patent and said, "Hey that sounds vaguely like IRC!"

It's fabulous! We haven't seen anything like it in the last half an hour! -- Macy's