Worlds.com – a company with an expensive web address, a fistful of wide-ranging patents, an expensive lawyer and no discernible product – is suing MMO maker NCsoft, for making MMOs. Welcome to the wacky world of patent lawsuits. Worlds.com believes that NCsoft has violated U.S. Patent 7,181,690, to the detriment of its business, and presumably wants some kind of cash handout justice.
What is U.S. Patent 7,181,690, you ask? It’s a “System and method for enabling users to interact in a virtual space.” Or in other words, any kind of MMO or virtual world you care to think of. Why has NCsoft been singled out? No idea. Second Life, World of Warcraft, EVE, PlayStation Home and many, many more all employ a ‘system and method for enabling users to interact in a virtual space.’ It’s sort of the point. Presumably NCsoft was the first name drawn out of the hat. Or maybe Activison-Blizzard looked a little too massive and scary for Worlds.com’s legal team.
The patent itself was applied for in 2000, and granted in 2007. A recent press release on the Worlds.com website reveals that the company is employing intellectual property lawyers Lerner David Littenberg Krumholz & Mentlik LLP to enforce its patents.
Here’s how these things usually go: company applies for absurdly broadly worded patent and somehow, inexplicably it gets granted. Company then makes with the suing and tries to get money out of other companies who probably hadn’t the faintest idea that any such patent existed. Patent office realises there has been a bit of a muddle and withdraws or rewords patent.
But there’s also a chance that the case might make it as far as court and then there’s a better chance of the patent owner being awarded some kind of financial compensation. However, if that does happen, then it paves the way for the next wave of lawsuits, which would undoubtedly go after bigger fish and more lucrative financial settlements. And then suddenly the whole premise of MMOs is on decidedly shaky grounds…