Game Over With Hefty Fine in Gaming Patent Clash
The world’s electronic gaming industry has been alerted to a multi million dollar fine imposed on a company for infringing another’s patents on a game.
Japanese mobile developer Gree has won a lawsuit against Finnish developer Supercell and awarded at least $8.5 million, with the possibility of a much bigger fine later.
Gree claimed its games -- such as Clash of Clans, Clash Royale and Brawl Stars -- infringe on multiple patents the Japanese firm holds in America.
Australian promoters of the games should take note. Games are world wide now so they need to watch that they don’t infringe rights in other countries.
The Supercell fine shines a light on an area of law gamers may not think applies to their world.
A federal jury in the Eastern District Court of Texas found Supercell guilty of infringing four patents held by Gree. The jury also deemed the patent infringement to be wilful, so Bloomberg reports that District Court Judge Rodney Gilstrap could decide to increase that amount by as much as three times.
The case revolved around games developed for mobile devices.
Australian gaming experts say mobile games don’t generally feature the complex storylines or mechanics of their mainstream gaming counterparts and are regarded by many in the traditional industry as the gaming equivalent of comic books – entertaining but still a legitimate thing, although not to be regarded as seriously as mainstream 'AAA' games released on PCs or consoles.
That said, mobile games generate enormous revenues - the microtransactions in the games make the developers millions. Supercell, for example, made USD$577 million in profit last year (total revenues USD$1.56 billion), according to Bloomberg.
On that basis the fine imposed of USD$8.5m payment might be regarded as the equivalent of spare change down the back of the couch and possibly cheaper than licensing the patent tech from the Japanese company.
Just to make things even more complicated, Supercell is majority owned by Tencent, who are the world's largest gaming company - their annual income last year was USD$54 billion. Tencent are based in China and (like most large Chinese businesses) have connections to the Chinese Government.
Gaming sources say they think the Japanese company are being somewhat overzealous in the matter, suggesting their behaviour was akin to a Patent Troll using an overly broad patent as a reason to sue someone who used anything close to the patented concept in their own games. Entities with broad patents suing infringers has been a problem in the tech industry from some time now and is a particularly big issue in the US because of how their patent laws are set up.
The Australian perspective isthat it is hard to get software patents in Australia so that the games patent is likely not registered here.
But still they want the game to go world wide so the question is, if a patent is granted in a popular country is that equivalent to having a world wide patent?
For some industries it’s yes because the overall effect would be the same, they can’t launch worldwide, even though it is likely enforceable in that country only.
It’s reaffirmed though just how international some lawsuits can become - why are a Chinese-owned Finnish company and a Japanese company fighting a legal battle in the US court system?