Worlds.Com To Sue Blizzard, Linden Lab, Kathy Griffin, Lee Adama, The Kaiser, And Possibly Sony

In case you ever needed proof that the American legal system is so mentally retarded that drooling on oneself is a second-year law course, this case is your huckleberry.

Worlds.com CEO Thom Kidrin is putting the entire virtual worlds industry on notice: His company claims the idea of a scalable virtual world with thousands of users is its patented intellectual property, and Thom told us he intends to sue anyone who refuses to enter into licensing negotiations — including giants such as Second Life and World of Warcraft, a property of Activision Blizzard (ATVI).

Already, Korean gaming firm NCSoft, maker of City of Heroes and Guild Wars, has been sued by Worlds.  (In East Texas no less, a jurisdiction infamous in intellectual property circles for plaintiff-friendly rulings in patent cases.)

Thom told us if he succeeds in his litigation, he “absolutely” intends to pursue follow-up suits against industry leaders Second Life and WoW.

That’s right: Worlds.com (or more accurately, their ambulance chasing blackmailers masquerading as lawyers) are stepping up to challenge Blizzard Legal Strike Force: OTTER. This can only end well.

direwolfskindarkblackBlizzard’s lawyers have no comment at this time.

Or more likely, like other patent trolls throughout history, the Worlds.com legal team’s fondest wish is to cash in on a “no, really, go away” payout that would be, for Blizzard, a rounding error. Isn’t it awesome when innovation and success has a Stupid Legal System tax? Because, clearly, it’s easier to just sue random people with blatantly frivolous shakedowns than to actually, you know, update your own website with news other than your adventures in legalistic blackmail.

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41 Responses to Worlds.Com To Sue Blizzard, Linden Lab, Kathy Griffin, Lee Adama, The Kaiser, And Possibly Sony

  1. Kyoji says:

    This is really something. I hope if they are successful against NCSoft Blizzard has the will to fight them out in court. Blizzard was very aggressive about the gold selling, hopefully they’ll be as aggressive on defense as well.

  2. hellfire says:

    I can’t imagine the Blizzard legal team really has THAT much to do right now. I’m sure they’re in a conference room somewhere going “we could totally pwn these nubs”.

  3. sinij says:

    Very likely repetition of RIM, once threatened with possibility of service interruptions they will settle.

    Can we delete legal system and start fresh?

  4. Lvl 60 and quit says:

    Your indictment of the legal system is an over-reaction and misplaces blame. Thom can threaten and bluster all he wants; that’s freedom of speech. And if he chooses to file a suit, that is his right as well. The legal system’s wheels will then spin up and after prelim hearings likely not allow this suit to move forward or let it proceed and cost him money. If the latter, he may end up paying the legal costs incurred by those he chooses to sue.

    How else can a fair legal system work?

  5. Patrick says:

    Fortunately, given Blizzard’s earnings from WoW, the legal fees would amount to a rounding error as well.

    I really want to see this suit filed.

  6. yunk says:

    It will only be a comment on the legal system if this suit gets anywhere. And even then, it may be more of a comment on our patent system, or the particular patents.

    Patents are great to protect inventions and encourage people to innovate, but overly broad patents (or patents on facts of nature like genes) only discourage innovation.

    In a just world such an overly broad patent on an “idea” will end up declared null by a judge.

    In other news I’m patenting gross generalizations! My girlfriend said I did that way back in high school, so you have no prior art before that. Now everyone on teh interweb owes me monies.

  7. Miles says:

    “Isn’t it awesome when innovation and success has a Stupid Legal System tax?”

    No MMORPG company will be forced to pay a ‘Stupid Legal System Tax.’ Worlds.com will sue, Blizzard will speak the magic phrase “Prior art,” and Worlds.com will file for bankruptcy after the judge orders it to pay Blizzard’s legal fees–a common result when a frivolous lawsuit gets filed.

    Patents are a great way to protect those who innovate. Come up with an innovative idea, patent it, and you’ve made stealing the idea a bajillion times harder.

    But try to patent somebody else’s idea after a bunch of people are already talking about it, using it, and improving upon it, and you’re out of luck. The proverbial cat’s out of the bag. I see no way a Worlds.com lawsuit will survive a Motion for Summary Judgment, much less get to trial.

  8. Jeff Vogel says:

    Reading the comments on a story like this never fails to amaze.

    Being sued costs money. Lots of money. Just to get to the point where your lawyers can march into a courtroom and say the words “prior art” is profoundly expensive. Since you need to, you know, hire those lawyers. And have them guide you through the many steps leading into the courtroom. And that also assumes that, once the trial starts, the judge will act intelligently and grant you Justice ™. Amazingly, once it court, things don’t always work that way.

    Such lawsuit threats are ridiculous, but the harsh reality of getting sued means that they will probably work. So yes, this is a comment on our legal and patent system. And not a positive comment either. To believe otherwise is to have a teenager’s view of how the law works.

    – Jeff Vogel
    http://jeff-vogel.blogspot.com/

  9. Unfortunately, while the theory is that Worlds.com should be laughed out of court, the reality is much different. Reality shows that the system is broken.

    Uttering the magic words “prior art” actually costs a lot of money. I did some expert work on a patent defense case, looking up prior art for another lawsuit. After several thousand dollars in fees (and I was one of the cheaper ones), I found some slam-dunk prior art for the case. Then the defense settled the case, because it was going to be cheaper to settle than actually do the trial. The plaintiff was happy to settle because getting a check is guaranteed whereas a trial is risky.

    That’s the way the patent trolls work. Even Blizzard is likely to settle if it’ll cost them half as much to do that as opposed to go to trial; it’s a business decision, pure and simple. Worlds.com went after NCSoft first for obvious reasons: they aren’t doing well financially so they are more likely to want to write a check to make the bad people go away. This gives them the cash necessary to have their blood-suckers file other lawsuits against other, larger targets.

    The reason why we have the term “patent troll” is because this is an effective method for getting money. If it weren’t successful some of the time, people wouldn’t do it.

    If you want a bit more in-depth analysis, you can check out a post on my blog I did a while ago about the Worlds.com vs. NCSoft case: http://www.psychochild.org/?p=540

    Personal to affected companies: I’m available for expert research work on patent defenses. I can provide a solid reference.

  10. Gx1080 says:

    Well, theres should be a little more faith in Blizzard legal team squashing Worlds.com like they did with MMO Glider despite the broken patent system that should check if a person truly invented something instead of talking crap.

  11. Miles says:

    @Jeff Vogel
    I said Worlds.com wouldn’t survive a Motion for Summary Judgment. Obviously there is significant expense with taking a case all the way to trail. There is considerable expense with filing responsible pleadings and bringing a Motion for Summary Judgment, but it’s far far less costly than taking a case all the way through the court-ordered settlement process, discovery, jury selection (if they opt for a jury) and trial.

    The question for NCSoft (or Blizzard or whomever) isn’t simply whether settlement is cheaper than trial. Is settlement cheaper than filing an Answer and a Motion (to Dismiss or for SJ), and arguing the Motion? If settlement *is* cheaper, is the expenditure worth it if the motion succeeds and makes the patent trolls think twice before suing in the future? Even if it has to go all the way to trial, how much money is saved if an NCSoft victory prevents four patent suits from being filed against it next year? On top of all this, the chances the court will find the action frivolous and make the troll pay attorney’s fees and damages must be factored in as well.

    Sorry Jeff, but thinking this type of a lawsuit breaks down simply to “Settlement > Trial” strikes me as the most teenagerish view one could have.

  12. ello says:

    I remember my company settling with a guy who patented streaming video within a website or a frame or something. they decided it was cheaper to just pay him a fee rather than go to court.

    Blizzard I don’t think will blink on this and will sic their lawyers on em.

  13. Eduin says:

    Perhaps people need a history lesson.

    Back in 1995 there was no “online virtual world” certainly not on in 3d. And along came Alphaworld, which became Worlds Inc, which became Worlds.com. They have the intellectual property.

    Will they be successful? They have the “prior art” in terms of MMORPG. It was a massively multiplayed, online world. That’s gonna be a pretty compelling argument for their case. They could lose, based on single played 3d worlds. But, tbh, that’s not really that likely.

    Most of these companies are gonna settle.

    Regards,
    Eduin

  14. Eduin says:

    Just to add.

    I used Alphaworld before i used Meridian59 (yes their IP is that old). And all the time I thought “this would rock with gaming content”. And lo and behold along came M59, then EQ, then WoW…

    Regards,
    Eduin

  15. bloo says:

    Just like the AVG patent trolling, all the big guns will talk about fighting it and unifying their defense, then they all quietly settle.

  16. VPellen says:

    Please, please, PLEASE let Blizzard punch these guys in the ovaries.

  17. Vetarnias says:

    The question of prior art in patent filings never ceases to amaze me. Such as that notorious example of a process to insert buoyant balls into a sunken ship to make it rise to the surface, which may or may not have been denied a patent based on a Donald Duck comic strip:

    http://www.iusmentis.com/patents/priorart/donaldduck/

    If true, the prior art does not even need to be practical, which means that in the Worlds.com case, any bad scifi writer from the sixties who decribed something vaguely similar could be invoked as prior art.

    What really, really annoys me though is that the US’s notorious record on all matters relating to patents is more or less dictating policy to the rest of the world. Meaning that the outcome of that lawsuit will have worldwide repercussions, not just in the United States — especially should Worlds.com win. Canadian, European, Australian, Japanese law, etc., which I’m pretty sure would have none of that Worlds.com craziness, would be completely overridden by the fact that America itself is shut off. And what does not cater to America’s 300 million people must not exist.

    Have yourself a nauseating dose of Kate Smith.

  18. EpicSquirt says:

    @Eduin
    I ran a BBS (Bulletin Board System) pre 1995 which was connected with other BBS, building up a virtual world. Many BBS hosted persistent multiplayer games.

    Networks are quite old and so are games, much older than the whole Internet idea.

    So much for your history lesson.

    Patents and software just does not fit.

  19. EpicSquirt says:

    @Vetarnias
    Sorry, but no. Here in Europe we don’t give a damn about much what’s happening within the US legal system. We don’t have software patents, the whole EULA bullcrap doesn’t apply to stuff you buy at a retail shop (you can’t enforce a license on something that has been already legally sold), reverse engineering and disassembling is allowed to a degree (to make systems work), etc.

    I am not saying that European countries or the European Community have overall better legal systems, you will find cases of idiotic laws and lawsuits all over Europe too.

    You’ve much more freedom when developing software in Europe and the outcome is most likely completely irrelevant in Europe.

  20. Jason says:

    Lee Adama doesn’t need to be sued. His dad on the other hand is a crazed drunk that needs to be put before a military tribunal for war crimes against humanity.

    Whoops! That already happened and failed.

    Nevermind.

    Jason (resident drunken idiot of Channel Massive who likes to sign his comments because it makes them 10x more valid)

  21. Vetarnias says:

    @EpicSquirt
    I know, and does pretty much the rest of the world, as the area of intellectual property is one where everybody (except the usual business lobby; they’re trying their best up here in Canada to get the law changed) looks at the US in disgust. Like that magnificent example of audio recordings not being protected by US federal law, until it was ruled that they were protected under state law, which means that any audio recording, except those for which copyright had not been renewed or was badly registered under the old system, is protected in the US until 2067. Nice going there. And that’s not taking into account the inevitable copyright expansion every time public domain gets too close to Mickey Mouse.

    But what I meant is, sure, Europeans don’t follow the US patent system, and it’s to their credit. But what does that mean? Any company wanting to market its MMO in the US will have to deal with Worlds.com should it happen to win the lawsuit. If your company doesn’t want to be forced into that, sure, there’s the rest of the world. But you’re just cutting off the main western market.

    And the implications on MMO design might be threefold if Worlds.com wins 1) New MMO projects, having lost the US market, could try to reach out to Asian players, with the design preferences that it implies. 2) MMO’s that seek the US market are subjected to the blackmail of Worlds.com, “sign our terms, or you’re out”, driving up the costs of MMO’s. 3) It stamps out American independents. With the Worlds.com bully around, would Darkfall, for example, have existed if Aventurine had been American instead of Greek?

    I’m not saying it’s impossible to market a successful western-style MMO only in Europe, the rest of North America, and Oceania. Isn’t Chronicles of Spellborn purely European (though reportedly sinking faster than it can cross the Atlantic)? But with the US out of the equation, you will have to make do with a smaller budget or deal with the Worlds.com bully (which I presume is what the large guys will do).

    It’s pretty much a guarantee also that those companies that want to avoid dealing with Worlds.com will move out of the US just to be safe; this risks killing the industry for all except the largest players.

    That’s what I meant. A legal decision relying on presumably the most warped patent system on the planet is going to have worldwide design implications, simply because of America’s demographic weight.

  22. Jeff says:

    I hope the judges throw out the lawsuit and force the plaintiffs to gold farm in Darkfall.

  23. greglas says:

    The “American legal system” != patent law.
    Patent law [subset] American legal system
    The Stupid Legal System Tax = a serious problem with U.S. patent law.
    /agrees with that

  24. Vetarnias says:

    greglas :
    The “American legal system” != patent law.
    Patent law [subset] American legal system
    The Stupid Legal System Tax = a serious problem with U.S. patent law.
    /agrees with that

    Allright. How about tort law? Medical malpractice suits? Burned-myself-with-McDonald’s-coffee suits? SLAPPs? The RIAA suing grandmothers for tens of thousands of dollars?

    I’m not saying that the rest of the world doesn’t have its share of legal stupidity, but the US just has a reputation for those things.

    (I remember a local show having a reporter call in at our equivalent to the IRS, passing himself off as a drug dealer and asking matter-of-factly if he had to declare his revenues from drug dealing, with the employee at the end of the line apparently answering without batting an eye, as though it were a routine call. Then they got a reasonably senior civil servant on camera and played the tape. Instead of saying it was unacceptable and that the matter would be investigated, he was so stuck up in his world of red tape that he was just concerned over matters of taxation, not the legality of the thing. If you understand French, just enjoy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpMv5CPDnDI . It’s an unintentional barrel of laughs.)

  25. Mania says:

    I just want to know what that poor worg has to do with it …

    “What’s worg got to do with (got to do with it)? What’s worg but a second-hand emotion?”

    *cough*

  26. Gnarl says:

    I see too many folks defending the legal system with the argument that “the plaintiff will never win and have to pay the legal fees”. The problem lies in the fact that if, say I as an individual, were sued by said company for some software that I produced: Not being able to afford an attorney, I would have no option but to go to court and try to defend myself. That is how the modern implementation of IP law and the US courts, in general, stifle innovation…by creating a barrier to entry.

  27. Jessica Mulligan says:

    Eduin :
    Just to add.
    I used Alphaworld before i used Meridian59 (yes their IP is that old). And all the time I thought “this would rock with gaming content”. And lo and behold along came M59, then EQ, then WoW…
    Regards,
    Eduin

    Let’s note the filing date on the patent in question, #6219045: Nov 12, 1996

    Meridian 59 release date: September 27, 1996

    That’s called ‘prior art’.

  28. Triforcer says:

    As a former federal district court law clerk, I actually wrote a couple patent decisions. NCSoft will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it will culminate (either at summary judgment or trial, if it gets that far, which it won’t) with a 25 year old deciding whether this strikes him as stupid or not.

    Oh, and /agree with those above who realize that the mere act of being sued is devastating and dooms you to many legal fees unless you settle. The patent system is pretty damn broken.

  29. Athryn says:

    Don’t the books Neuromancer and Snow Crash also establish prior art? They’re both books (published in 1984 and 1992 respectively) that also describe virtual worlds, or is my interpretation of what constitutes “prior art” incorrect?

    Even Otherland describes the same thing as well, and it was published in early 1996. So it seems like, at least in the realm of fiction, there are plenty of examples of virtual worlds operated by computer networks.

  30. Athryn says:

    Er, I meant “City of Golden Shadow” instead of Otherland, and that book features a game in the virtual world that is a lot like current MMOs.

    Heck … what about Shadow of Yserbius (1993) and all of Sierra Online, which was also a virtual world ….. a virtual world by a company that ended up being purchased by Activision, which is of course Activision Blizzard.

    Heh, Blizzard themselves have the prior art already perhaps.

  31. Eduin says:

    EpicSquirt :@EduinI ran a BBS (Bulletin Board System) pre 1995 which was connected with other BBS, building up a virtual world. Many BBS hosted persistent multiplayer games.
    Networks are quite old and so are games, much older than the whole Internet idea.
    So much for your history lesson.
    Patents and software just does not fit.

    Yes, networks are age old but thats not what Worlds are claiming on. They are putting forward that they created the online 3d virtual world. AFAIK they did. Nothing before it was multi-user and a 3d environment.

    People are shouting and shrieking about hoping Worlds lose just because they never heard of them. The reality is that Worlds have a valid basis. That doesn’t mean they will win but having demonstrably provided a 3d online world in 1995 will give them a good start.

    Regards,
    Eduin

  32. Eduin says:

    Jessica Mulligan :

    Eduin :Just to add.I used Alphaworld before i used Meridian59 (yes their IP is that old). And all the time I thought “this would rock with gaming content”. And lo and behold along came M59, then EQ, then WoW…Regards,Eduin

    Let’s note the filing date on the patent in question, #6219045: Nov 12, 1996
    Meridian 59 release date: September 27, 1996
    That’s called ‘prior art’.

    Patent filing usually takes place some years after the initial design. This gap can be decades for some patent filings. To some extent the date is irrelevant as the Pursuer only needs demonstrate when the technology was first implemented and/or designed.

    Worlds will be able to demonstrate Alphaworld running as early as 1993 internally and, IIRC 1995 externally.

    Meridian59 is not necessarily classed as 3d remember, it was sprite based. Even UO was Isometric. Everquest was first with the truly 3d based world (I’m not a programmer, I don’t know the technical description for this) and that was, hmm 1999 release, probably 1997 at the earliest for internal demonstrations.

    Regards,
    Eduin

  33. Vasagi says:

    Damn. Makes me wish that I had patented breathing. Then I could sue all of you bastards and make MY fortune!

  34. Vetarnias says:

    Vasagi :
    Damn. Makes me wish that I had patented breathing. Then I could sue all of you bastards and make MY fortune!

    Over my dead body!

  35. Axecleaver says:

    The idea of litigation as a deterrent to patent trolls, and other patent transactional issues, has been explored extensively in legal journals since 2001. The decision to litigate or settle is highly situational and not at all subject to what we’d consider “common sense.” It requires a certain amount of analysis (ie, lawyers and money) to figure out the optimal stratgy; moral hazard is certainly part of the equation.

    Go check out SSRN (www.ssrn.com) and look for “patent troll” or “patent extortionist.” For example:

    Rantanen, Jason,Slaying the Troll: Litigation as an Effective Strategy Against Patent Threats. Santa Clara Computer and High Technology Law Journal, Vol. 23, No. 1, pp. 159-210, 2006. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=963191

  36. Brent Michael Krupp says:

    This is why I’ve seen many suggestions over the years that the US needs to adopt a “loser pays” approach to lawsuits. Much of Europe does it that way and it avoids idiocy like this.

  37. Dave G. says:

    Jessica Mulligan :
    Let’s note the filing date on the patent in question, #6219045: Nov 12, 1996
    Meridian 59 release date: September 27, 1996
    That’s called ‘prior art’.

    Wow, how did all the lawyers miss that?! Their mistake I guess! If you hurry over to NCSoft, maybe you can save the day. Perhaps drop by Harvard for an honourary law degree on your way.

    ahem….

    It is not automatically prior art.

    In order to invalidate a patent with prior art, that prior art must specifically implement or demonstrate the claims within the patent. Simply having a 3D MMORPG up and running before the patent was filed is meaningless if that MMORPG does not implement the claims of the patent.

    One of the claims of this patent is a way of rendering other players’ 3D avatars such that they are culled from the render process (ie not rendered) if there are too many avatars in view. The furthest avatars from the player are not drawn. (This is why it is ‘scalable’.)

    I didn’t play Meridian 59. Does Meridian 59 demonstrate an implementation of this claim? I’m doubtful.

    I’d just like to add that the patent system is royally screwed and I hope this patent troll and the people behind it fail and lose everything.

  38. Makaze says:

    Eduin :
    People are shouting and shrieking about hoping Worlds lose just because they never heard of them.

    No people are shouting a shrieking because they don’t believe a patent for something so non-specific and overreaching should have ever been granted.

    True, Worlds.com being a complete nobody and having a business model that primarily entails stifling the games industry makes it all the more egregious. But, I think you’d still be seeing the same outcry against our patent system whomever was attempting to exploit this flawed patent.

  39. Muckbeast says:

    > Blizzard was very aggressive about the gold
    > selling

    By agressive, you mean how aggressively they SELL gold to companies like IGE and other gold selling companies?

    Seriously, do you really think Blizzard would let all those companies make BILLIONS off WoW gold without getting their cut?

    And is there any other explanation for idiotic things like 20,000 gold mounts and 1,000 dual spec unlocks?

    Blizzard sells more gold than anyone.

  40. Muckbeast :

    By agressive, you mean how aggressively they SELL gold to companies like IGE and other gold selling companies?

    Seriously, do you really think Blizzard would let all those companies make BILLIONS off WoW gold without getting their cut?

    Those kinds of accusations were insultingly ridiculous when people bandied them about with EQ and DAOC, and they’re even more ridiculous with WoW. Mainly because….

    Muckbeast :

    And is there any other explanation for idiotic things like 20,000 gold mounts and 1,000 dual spec unlocks?

    Blizzard sells more gold than anyone.

    Your ignorance of the post-60 WoW game is showing. 1000 gold is almost trivial now for even the most casual high level player. The 20000-gold mounts are vanity pets for people with nothing else to spend gold on.

    Blizzard’s main weapon against gold farming has been to make gold farming by players trivial. The primary currency in the high end game are raid tokens, which are non-transferrable.

  41. […] Does “Patent Troll” in World of Warcraft count as a character type or a monster type? [Broken Toys] […]

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