Patents exist to protect the inventor from idea theft or knock-off products during the first stages of conception. If someone gets a good idea, it keeps larger companies from stealing it without compensation. However, as we move into the digital age, it becomes increasingly apparent that the system in place is no longer relevant to the needs companies and consumers have today. Here are four major reasons that patents are stunting the video game industry.
4) Companies are Forced to Defend Their Patents
One huge case cited when discussing patents and trademarks is the one between Bethesda and Mojang. Mojang intends to release a game named Scrolls, while Bethesda has a similarly named Elder Scrolls series. In order to keep their trademark on the Elder Scrolls series, Bethesda had to defend it and sue Mojang for trademark infringement, regardless of whether or not they thought they were entitled to the word ‘scrolls.’ Luckily the charge was dismissed and both companies remain on neutral terms (as far as their tweets and hidden items reveal) but the point is that both companies had to go out of their way with a large legal proceeding that probably cost a lot of money just to keep a trademark safe.
3) Patent Trolling Negatively Affects both Companies and Consumers
Patent trolling is acquiring a huge amount of patents and then suing anyone whose products resemble your patents. No matter how ubiquitous a feature is, if a company owns a patent for it, you can be sure they’ll be suing any other company that uses it. Microsoft was recently sued by Motorola because of the way it streams data. It was found guilty, and now faces huge fines and a ban on their products (at least until it’s appealed again). That means that a new gamer in Germany who wants to wait and buy a holiday system bundle might want to plan ahead and get their console sooner rather than later.
2) Encourage Monopolies
One famous example of this is the recent lawsuit from Uniloc claiming that several Android games are using their patent which ‘prevents unauthorized access to electronic data.’ This idea is immensely popular and used by several Android apps, as well as several other platforms. However, Uniloc is still able to sue for copyright infringement and waste the money of several different companies, all for a cut of money that was rightfully earned by other companies. If a piece of code was stolen, that would be another thing—but just having the same idea can jeopardize companies trying to expand on an idea.
1) Patents Suppress Creative Development
The worst part of the patent system is that even things which seem ubiquitous can still get through the system to be patented. Vibrating motors in a controller? Little green arrows that show what direction you are driving, and which direction you need to go? Both are patented by Immersion and Sega, respectively. The number of little things that receive vague patents abounds and keeps games from expanding—before publishing a game, developers have to check and double check that they aren’t infringing on some obscure patent, and even then, someone might still find a way to sue them. Luckily, the ITC is putting the current patent system under scrutiny, and many major figures in law understand that the current patent system simply doesn’t work. But while the legal wheels are in motion to prevent patent trolling and vague registrations, patents currently do more damage to the industry than they prevent.