January 30, 2015 | By Adi Kamdar and Daniel Nazer

January's Stupid Patent of the Month: A Method of Updating "Grass" in Video Games

Sports. It’s what’s on EFF’s patent team’s mind. No, not because this Sunday is the Super Bowl. No, not even because we filed an amicus brief today in a football-related right of publicity case.

It’s because of U.S. Patent 8,529,350—January’s Stupid Patent of the Month.

The patent—titled “Method and System for Increased Realism in Video Games”—is owned by Utah-based troll White Knuckle LLC. Like most trolls, White Knuckle doesn’t seem to sell or manufacture anything, but does happen to have this patent on remotely updating a sports video game based on real-world events—a player injury or a change in a stadium, such as new grass. And they used it this month to go after Electronic Arts, the largest sports video game manufacturer, for infringement. Specifically, White Knuckle calls out the last five years of NCAA Football games and the last five years of Tiger Woods PGA Tour games.

What does White Knuckle claim to have invented? The patent covers a computer “configured” to “provide a sports video game” with “parameters” that can be updated over the Internet. Of course, White Knuckle didn’t actually invent computers, sports video games, or the Internet. And it didn’t invent updating software from a server—that practice existed for many years before it filed a patent application (in 2002). No matter. It was enough for the Patent Office that White Knuckle suggested applying these already banal technologies to a specific context.

This is insane. You wouldn’t consider a “car that can drive in San Francisco” to be a different invention from “a car that can drive in Los Angeles.” It’s just a car. But the Patent Office lets applicants draw technologically irrelevant distinctions like this all the time. In essence, White Knuckle’s patent is just a claim to remotely updating software. There’s nothing technologically special about updating a video game (at least, no such problems are discussed and solved by this patent).

Some of White Knuckle’s patent claims are as specific as remotely updating the “grass” or the “ivy” at a stadium. Even leaving aside all the other problems with software patents, allowing absurd claims like this only encourages trolls to abuse the system. We’ll keep working for patent reform to stop the flood of software patents harming innovation.


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