Professor, Designer, Husband, Father, Gamer, Bagpiper

Writing an article about what's wrong with software patents is old news, but as it touches my research area again, I find my getting infuriated with the ludicrous nature of the system. This latest round is brought to us by Thom Kidrin, the CEO at Worlds.com, who insists that he is

not out to put anyone out of business, he just wants to be paid licensing fees for what he considers his lawful intellectual property.

IP passes from company to company, sure.  So, having lawful rights to IP you didn't create  is perfectly fine.

The issue I have is the notion that these guys can claim, in public with a straight face, that their IP is actually valid and broad enough to cover all MMOs.  It's plausible that they might have unique and new approaches to specific approaches to scalable worlds (although I seriously doubt it, given the work that had been going on in the military and research worlds before their 1997 work).

But, the specific architectures of SecondLife and WoW (the two worlds mentioned in the quote in this article) are completely different, so if he thinks he has patents that cover both, it means BY DEFINITION one or more of the following

  1. He has no idea what he's talking about.

  2. He knows his patents are not enforceable but is hoping to make a quite buck off companies hoping to avoid expensive litigation.

  3. The patents are overly broad and thus should be thrown out.

  4. He knows his patents are not enforceable but is hoping to make a quite buck off companies hoping to avoid expensive litigation.

Patents are supposed to be non-obvious, and are supposed to be on inventions (mechanisms, machines, processes, etc), not concepts.  So, it may be reasonable for Worlds.com to have a specific architecture for scalable worlds patented, but since SL and WoW use different architectures, it seems unlikely that this is what the patents are about.

Now, it may be the cases that they have patents on all plausible architectures. However, that brings up novelty and prior-art.  SIMNET, HLA and other highly scalable military simulation systems were implemented and published (and often times had open source implementations available).  Many researchers were presenting ideas for scalable worlds that were not commercially implemented, but were clearly documented.

Or, to put it another way, the ideas behind the architectures of all of these MMOs where already publicly known, or at least were "obvious" based on what was publicly known, well before the late 1990's.

(Just so folks know, I did a PhD from 1991 through 1998 on distribute virtual worlds software for augmented reality, so I'm not "unfamiliar" with this work).