The American patent system is well known among techies – and not for good reasons. This is the entity that granted Amazon a patent for taking photos against a white background.
Right now the US Patent and Trademark Office is considering giving a small publisher the patent protected rights to convert entities (PCs, Monsters, NPCs, stats, weapons, etc) from one genre to another.
For example, moving your Beyond the Supernatural character to Rifts would become a patent protected right. Exploring universes in Monte Cook’s The Strange might also come under the patent. The list goes on.
The issue came to light during a Q&A session on Dan Davenport’s #rpgnet channel. It was then blogged by Bedroom Wall Press. The full transcript of the conversation can be found at GM Shoe but here’s a relevant snippet.
[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.
AJ Schmidt isn’t telling tall tales. You can find the application for the patent at the US PTO.
In theory the patent office might block it. Bedroom Wall Press are sceptical this will happen. I am as well. There’s too much history against the USPTO for anyone to be hopeful.
Whereas gamers and publishers may have reason to be concerned I note there’s been some hostile comments to Universal Horizons. That’s hardly the way forward either. Writing in a Facebook update this morning the publisher said;
The patent issue: I will respond, but will continue to delete negative, derogatory, or flaming comments. This is our FB page. We cannot shut down anyone’s favorite game or redefining water as was earlier suggested. The sky is not falling, designers are free to create very dynamic RPGs and systems. Please read and understand:
We are a small company that invented a very specific process for shifting characters through genres, and we want to protect it using a patent. We consulted a lawyer who confirmed the same and encouraged a process patent. We want to protect the process we invented.
Many are commenting on the abstract that uses abstract language. The details of a patent are referred to within the cited definitions and the main book. This does not affect any previous publications or any other future publications that do not copy our process.
In a comment on the same thread, Universal Horizons indicated they won’t sue other publishers should they win the patent.
We witnessed the craziness of copyright infringement with Gygax and many smaller companies from larger game companies. We sought the consult of a copyright/ patent attorney. He informed us patent law protects better than copyright law. After his research, he informed us our method of character conversion was unique enough to the patented. Thus we sought the patent to protect our idea. Your insight is right-on. To be clear: we will not attack, sue, or investigate previous/ current game systems for infringement.
The desire to protect your ideas and avoid being ripped off is understandable. The question is whether the patent approach is the right way to go. What do you think?
Update: It would be useful if a patent expert/lawyer popped up with some insight. In particular: does is patent exclusive to or inclusive of the role of a computer?
Image credit: Patent Troll by McNeil