Late last week, GameTek LLC — which appears to be a company only on paper at this point — filed a series of patent infringement cases in southern California against some big social gaming companies, including Facebook, Zynga, Electronic Arts, Wooga, Funzio and 6waves. GameTek is asserting a single patent, US no. 7,076,445, which was just assigned over to GameTek last month. The games accused of infringing the patent include FarmVille, CityVille, Mafia Wars 2, Crime City, Bingo Blitz, and several others.
The '445 patent claims priority back to 2000 and was eventually granted in 2006. There are a total of 19 claims in the patent, but the broadest ones cover in-game purchases for virtual objects like health, resources, weapons, skill points, and other such goodies. Generally, the claims cover the following in-game purchasing (software) method:
- permitting a gamer to create an account;
- determining if the gamer is eligible to purchase game objects;
- setting a price for the game objects;
- making sure the gamer's account balance can cover the game objects;
- offering a game object for purchase based on the status of the game and gamer; and
- allowing the gamer to purchase the game object, and incorporating the object into the game, without interrupting the game action.
Of course, these cases often revolve around the dissection and interpretation of a single term or phrase in a patent claim. This particular case just started up, so it's difficult to know exactly where this war on words will be focused. However, certain language in the claims does stand out on first glance. For instance, it will be interesting to see what it means to allow a gamer to purchase and incorporate a game object "without interrupting the game action." It's a little strange to think of a judge opining on the nuances of buying virtual radishes, but that may be where we're heading. We'll have a better idea of how this case will play out once Facebook, Zynga and the others file their responses to GameTek's complaint.