NC Soft Sued

By Rory McCarty

By RORY MCCARTY

Senior Reporter

NC Soft, the publisher of massively multiplayer online games such as “City of Heroes,” “Guild Wars,” and “Lineage II,” is currently being sued for patent infringement by Worlds.com. The copyright in question is one for the online video game.

Worlds.com received the rights to a patent early in December for a “System and method for enabling users to interact in a virtual space.” Later that month, Worlds.com took legal action against NC Soft for patent infringement. However, the wording of the patent is vague enough to apply to any MMO game, or in fact, almost any game that is played online.

“The present invention provides a highly scalable architecture for a three-dimensional graphical, multi-user, interactive virtual world system. In a preferred embodiment a plurality of users interact in the three-dimensional, computer-generated graphical space where each user executes a client process to view a virtual world from the perspective of that user. The virtual world shows avatars representing the other users who are neighbors of the user viewing the virtual word. In order that the view can be updated to reflect the motion of the remote user’s avatars, motion, information is transmitted to a central server process which provides positions updates to client processes for neighbors of the user at that client process. The client process also uses an environment database to determine which background objects to render as well as to limit the movement of the user’s avatar.”

Worlds.com also received a patent for a “Scalable virtual world client-server chat system” in 2001, which is also being utilized in the lawsuit.

There are a number of obvious questions raised here. Does Worlds.com actually have the right to copyright the concept of an online game? It seems that legally they do, even if patents are designed to protect new inventions and discoveries, and online games certainly existed long before the patent was filed.

Another point of confusion is why Worlds.com is choosing to sue only NC Soft, when the wording of the patent would allow them to take on companies like “World of Warcraft”-maker Blizzard as well. One theory¬† is that because NC Soft is a smaller company, they will be easier to take on in court. If Worlds.com can win a court case against NC Soft, it would establish a precedent that would make it easier for Worlds.com to take on other MMO companies.

Regardless of whether Worlds.com is within its right to claim patent infringement, or whether the patent system may be completely broken, NC Soft and other MMO companies may be in for a though times in the coming months.