Carmack on Game Patents

This post from John Carmack (thanks Frans) offers a comment from the id Software technical director on patenting technologies used in video games. The post responds to this Slashdot thread about the legal beagles who have launched The Patent Arcade attempting to encourage more game technology patents (since that would be an opportunity to drink from an untapped revenue stream). Here's Mr. Carmack's take:
I'm proud that there is "a relative dearth of patent applications for the video game industry, especially considering how technology-dependent the video game industry is, and given its size in terms of annual sales."

Before issuing a condemnation, I try hard to think about it from their point of view -- the laws of the land set the rules of the game, and lawyers are deeply confused at why some of us aren't using all the tools that the game gives us.

Patents are usually discussed in the context of someone "stealing" an idea from the long suffering lone inventor that devoted his life to creating this one brilliant idea, blah blah blah.

But in the majority of cases in software, patents effect independent invention. Get a dozen sharp programmers together, give them all a hard problem to work on, and a bunch of them will come up with solutions that would probably be patentable, and be similar enough that the first programmer to file the patent could sue the others for patent infringement.

Why should society reward that? What benefit does it bring? It doesn't help bring more, better, or cheaper products to market. Those all come from competition, not arbitrary monopolies. The programmer that filed the patent didn't work any harder because a patent might be available, solving the problem was his job and he had to do it anyway. Getting a patent is uncorrelated to any positive attributes, and just serves to allow either money or wasted effort to be extorted from generally unsuspecting and innocent people or companies.

Yes, it is a legal tool that may help you against your competitors, but I'll have no part of it. Its basically mugging someone.

I could waste hours going on about this. I really need to just write a position paper some day that I can cut and paste when this topic comes up.
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35.
 
Re: Blimey
Jun 3, 2005, 15:57
35.
Re: Blimey Jun 3, 2005, 15:57
Jun 3, 2005, 15:57
 
I replied to your post as it existed at the time I hit the reply button.
Well you should always check the post to which you reply before you actually post your reply. The refresh button is your friend.

But in many cases you would need to see the source because it's impossible to tell if infringement occurred otherwise. Take, for example, the LZW patent (aka GIF patent). There are several ways to generate a valid GIF file, but only one of them was patented. Without seeing the source it would be extremely difficult to state whether or not the implementation was infringing.
Actually with the LZW patent as applies to GIF files, you wouldn't need to see the source code at all. All you would need to do is look at the GIF files created and see if they incorporate the LZW compression. Easy to prove without source. The same thing goes with most software patents. You simply look at the results in the product. Does it have any of the features/claims described in the patent? If it looks like it does, you ask the infringing party for whatever royalties you want, and if they refuse you sue and let the court sort it out.

This comment was edited on Jun 3, 16:00.
34.
 
Re: Patents - Good and Bad
Jun 3, 2005, 15:34
Prez
 
34.
Re: Patents - Good and Bad Jun 3, 2005, 15:34
Jun 3, 2005, 15:34
 Prez
 
Congratulations. You just repeated everything Carmack stated in his post.

Congratulations to you good sir. You recognized I was summarizing the facts about patents. The reason they read similar is because facts are facts. Sigh. Some people just can't help being obnoxious.


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- Mahatma Gandhi
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33.
 
Re: Blimey
Jun 3, 2005, 08:15
33.
Re: Blimey Jun 3, 2005, 08:15
Jun 3, 2005, 08:15
 
Next time reply to my post as edited.

I replied to your post as it existed at the time I hit the reply button. Yes, there was time lapse, but I was doing other things as well as posting a reply.

I wrote that it doesn't matter what PROGRAMMING methods, i.e. source code, are used. What matters is if the process is the same (with "same" not necessarily being an exact duplication of the process.). Courts can and have determined infringement without exact duplication.

Yes, I know. But in many cases you would need to see the source because it's impossible to tell if infringement occurred otherwise. Take, for example, the LZW patent (aka GIF patent). There are several ways to generate a valid GIF file, but only one of them was patented. Without seeing the source it would be extremely difficult to state whether or not the implementation was infringing.

Such overly broad are granted regularly which is why software patents are so easily abused

I agree, and the court system is broken when it comes to remedying this problem.

32.
 
Re: Blimey
Jun 3, 2005, 05:58
32.
Re: Blimey Jun 3, 2005, 05:58
Jun 3, 2005, 05:58
 
"A patent protectes a process or an idea"...And you are immediately wrong.

Next time reply to my post as edited. I realized after I had initially posted AND well before you replied that what I had written was not what I had intended.

Yes it does matter what methods are used to implement that feature
That is not what I wrote. Read it again. I wrote that it doesn't matter what PROGRAMMING methods, i.e. source code, are used. What matters is if the process is the same (with "same" not necessarily being an exact duplication of the process.). Courts can and have determined infringement without exact duplication.

if you do not meet all of those claims then guess what -- you don't infringe.
It's not that simple. That only applies to literal infringement. There is also infringement under the Doctrine of Equivalents.

Otherwise the patent is overly broad and either wouldn't be granted
Such overly broad patents are granted regularly which is why software patents are so easily abused. If you want to see a good example of this in action in the video game industry, checkout the current American Video Graphics patent lawsuits.

This comment was edited on Jun 3, 16:01.
31.
 
Re: Patents - Good and Bad
Jun 3, 2005, 05:33
31.
Re: Patents - Good and Bad Jun 3, 2005, 05:33
Jun 3, 2005, 05:33
 
Patents are good because they protect the little guy from having his ideas ripped off by the big guy who has a much easier time turning an idea into a product. Without a patent, whoever comes out first to market by default is the creator.

Patents are bad because they stifle creativity. It is ridiculous imo what someone can get a patent on in this country. And the last thing the games market is something that stifles creativity. There is a severe shortage of creativity in the industry as it is.

congratulations. You just repeated everything Carmack stated in his post.

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"Both the “left” and the “right” pretend they have the answer, but they are mere flippers on the same thalidomide baby, and the truth is that neither side has a clue."

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30.
 
Carmack is a demagogue
Jun 3, 2005, 03:52
30.
Carmack is a demagogue Jun 3, 2005, 03:52
Jun 3, 2005, 03:52
 
Having made up a pretty non-existing scenario in which the same party of interest creates a "brain storming room" with a bunch of sharp programmers and then send them off to file their own patents Carmack then goes on to say that in such a case the first one is ok while the other get shafted.

Well, although I admire Carmack, on this one he is simply wrong. The usual flow is either one very sharp person tries to get a patent on something or a company does. Usually there are not that many contenders at first. Usually only one patent for a particular innovative idea is being put on the table; a year later someone else suddenly realizes he thought of the same idea before, so why not sue?

Well, the idea behind the patent mechanism (which is pretty screwed up right now because of the legal system) was to benefit society by giving it recipes for cutting edge technologies while protecting the original creator for the next 20 years or so.

But the system is screwed. It rewards those who has better means and not neccessarily better ideas. It stops better ideas from getting to the world because most ideas are evolution of older ones, and determining (from a legal point of view) when you actually improved something vs. when you simply copied something is very hard.

The extremest would say, I don't want to patent anything, but then the problem is with technology staying in private hands instead of getting out there.

29.
 
Patents - Good and Bad
Jun 3, 2005, 00:20
Prez
 
29.
Patents - Good and Bad Jun 3, 2005, 00:20
Jun 3, 2005, 00:20
 Prez
 
Patents are good because they protect the little guy from having his ideas ripped off by the big guy who has a much easier time turning an idea into a product. Without a patent, whoever comes out first to market by default is the creator.

Patents are bad because they stifle creativity. It is ridiculous imo what someone can get a patent on in this country. And the last thing the games market is something that stifles creativity. There is a severe shortage of creativity in the industry as it is.

This comment was edited on Jun 3, 00:21.
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
- Mahatma Gandhi
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28.
 
Re: Blimey
Jun 3, 2005, 00:06
28.
Re: Blimey Jun 3, 2005, 00:06
Jun 3, 2005, 00:06
 
A patent protectes a process or an idea

And you are immediately wrong.

A patent does protect a process, but does not protect an idea. If I can create an alternate method or process to achieve the exact same idea then not only am I not infringing on your patent, but I can patent it myself. You can try and design your claims to be broad, but if they're too broad then the entire patent can be invalidated (which is also bloody hard to do -- too hard really, it's one of the many problems with the current patent system).

one existing video game patent owned by Microsoft is for a game feature/element which rewards players with style points for achieving feats with panache. It doesn't matter what computer code/programming methods are used to implement that feature/element.

Yes it does matter what methods are used to implement that feature. And the patent specifically lists the sequence of events (or similar) that occurs in order to do so. Otherwise the patent is overly broad and either wouldn't be granted (unlikely nowadays) or could be overturned far too easily (which still isn't easy nowadays, but it's at least possible... which is more than can be said for most bogus patents currently). People over-generalize patents because they don't understand them. The patent you refer to has 22 claims. If you do not meet all of those claims then guess what -- you don't infringe. And some of the claims are pretty specific, like:

"7. The method of claim 6, wherein the feat of style includes one of power sliding, spinning, driving on two wheels, jumping into the air, blocking an opponent, avoiding obstacles, passing an opponent, somersaulting, twirling a weapon, and shooting backwards."

By the way, now you see why patents are so harmful to the gaming business?

Where did I ever indicate otherwise? I outright stated that the patent system was broken.

Frankly, software patents as a whole should be disallowed. It used to be explicitly disallowed to patent algorithms, since algorithms are mathematical in nature and therefore not "an original invention or process". Software patents blur that concept dangerously.

27.
 
Re: Blimey
Jun 2, 2005, 23:58
27.
Re: Blimey Jun 2, 2005, 23:58
Jun 2, 2005, 23:58
 
A little PYAITK on patents:

http://www.answers.com/patent&r=67

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26.
 
Re: Blimey
Jun 2, 2005, 23:21
26.
Re: Blimey Jun 2, 2005, 23:21
Jun 2, 2005, 23:21
 
A patent is granted only on a specific method of doing things.
That is wrong. A patent protects a process as a whole not just one specific implementation of it. For example, one existing video game patent owned by Microsoft is for a game feature/element which rewards players with style points for achieving feats with panache. It doesn't matter what computer code/programming methods are used to implement that feature/element. It's the process itself which is protected. So, source code is not needed to prove infringement. As a matter of fact, that is the point of software patents: to the process/feature regardless of the computer language or code used to imnplement it. Therefore, if developers who want to add that feature to their games, they need to get permission from (and most likely make royalty payments to) Microsoft.

By the way, now you see why patents are so harmful to the gaming business?

Which is actually a breach of contract case,
That's a moot point. I only brought up SCO's actions because it demonstrates how source code can be obtained through the courts. The actual subject of the SCO lawsuit are irrelevant to this discussion. By the way, it didn't take SCO two years to get the source code from when it actually requested it.

Really, I know IP law fairly well.
LOL! I think your definition of "fairly well" is quite exaggerated.

This comment was edited on Jun 2, 23:52.
25.
 
Re: Blimey
Jun 2, 2005, 22:44
25.
Re: Blimey Jun 2, 2005, 22:44
Jun 2, 2005, 22:44
 
First, with a patent you don't need the source code to prove infringement. [...] The source code would only be needed in a copyright infringement case.

A patent is granted only on a specific method of doing things. So unless you try to patent a sequence of machine instructions (which you cannot do, thankfully, and would be stupid to do on a number of levels anyway), you're going to need to see the source in order to show that the method they implemented is identical to the method that you laid out in your patent.

Second, to get the source code to an infringing product, one would only have to seek a court order which is routine in these types of cases. That is how SCO got IBM's UNIX source code.

Which is actually a breach of contract case, not an IP one, although the IP bits are being dragged in as a secondary issue (and IBM's countersuit specifically names patent violations by SCO). Oh, and it only took SCO about 2 years to get some of the code involved (according to SCO at least... of course, the entire suit is bullshit) after dozens of motions and days in court. Hope you can afford a lot of money for that team of lawyers... they've spent somewhere over $40M so far as I recall.

Really, I know IP law fairly well. IANAL by any means, but I understand copyright, patent, trademarks, and service marks, and the differences between all of them, better than most. I had a couple classes in college on this stuff.

24.
 
Re: Blimey
Jun 2, 2005, 22:00
24.
Re: Blimey Jun 2, 2005, 22:00
Jun 2, 2005, 22:00
 
Those large corporations can spend umpty-thousand defending their ill-gotten patents, whereas a smaller independant company that may have a better product but less money to spend on lawyers could go broke in the litigation process -- even if in the end it was deemed that no infringement took place.

Well, there have been cases of some "little guy" coming out of nowhere with a patent and challenging the "big guy" (and winning)...

http://news.com.com/2100-1017_3-1010397.html

Doesn't mean I agree with it of course...

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23.
 
hmmmmm.
Jun 2, 2005, 21:34
23.
hmmmmm. Jun 2, 2005, 21:34
Jun 2, 2005, 21:34
 
Bah who's Carmack anyway?

Surely you have heard of him ? they wrote a book about him, you may have read it, it's called "The Holy Bible"


jaspos
The Great

This comment was edited on Jun 2, 21:43.
22.
 
Just think...
Jun 2, 2005, 20:53
22.
Just think... Jun 2, 2005, 20:53
Jun 2, 2005, 20:53
 
If Carmack had patented everything in wolf3d, doom, and quake then the whole First Person genre would be iD titles, or having to pay out the ass to use such technology.

21.
 
Re: Been Bitten Before
Jun 2, 2005, 19:25
21.
Re: Been Bitten Before Jun 2, 2005, 19:25
Jun 2, 2005, 19:25
 
In all fairness Carmack has voiced his anti-patent opinion long before the "Creative indcident" afaik.

<rant>
I must say I'm deeply disappointed in Gamasutra, for giving those slime sucking scumbags a forum to spread their cancer inducing vomit. Gamasutra should be _for_ developers, not help spread the propaganda (that works against developers) of some asshats that are better off as shark bait.

Am I upset? hell yeah, as a software/game developer, the whole broken software patent situation makes my blood boil every time I get reminded of it. When even Carmack/id with their amount of money had to fold to one of the most dubious patents, some small dev is so royally screwed it ain't even funny.
</rant>


20.
 
Re: SCUM!
Jun 2, 2005, 19:05
20.
Re: SCUM! Jun 2, 2005, 19:05
Jun 2, 2005, 19:05
 
To truly succeed in America 2 things have to happen. 1) You have a product/idea that no has thought of before and market it before anyone else and protect the hell out of it and you'd better hope somebody with more money isn't in the same game.
or 2) You have deep pockets and a team of lawyers who can just rape everybody smaller than you by outspending them in legal fees. Sad fact is everything is tilted in favor of the big guy because of the lawyers. I'm glad Carmack sees where this would be headed in a hurry. Big companies don't want to innovate, they just want to milk the current thing dry.

This comment was edited on Jun 2, 19:06.
19.
 
Re: SCUM!
Jun 2, 2005, 18:17
19.
Re: SCUM! Jun 2, 2005, 18:17
Jun 2, 2005, 18:17
 
And i'm sure Mr. Chang and Mr. Dannenturd would love to volunteer to take on any patent cases us software developers need litigated, right? For an obscene fee, of course. Yeah, no bias there. I'm sick of all these pool-pissers.

18.
 
Re: SCUM!
Jun 2, 2005, 17:39
18.
Re: SCUM! Jun 2, 2005, 17:39
Jun 2, 2005, 17:39
 
Yep--the lawyers want to make more money!!! PERIOD!
and where else to do it but the good ol US of A. They sure love to sue there--for anything and everything.

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17.
 
SCUM!
Jun 2, 2005, 17:36
17.
SCUM! Jun 2, 2005, 17:36
Jun 2, 2005, 17:36
 
Personal injury litigation must be getting oversaturated, these vile pricks are now branching out into my hobby.

I wish slow lingering stomach cancer on every one of these bastards.

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Sacred cows make the tastiest hamburgers
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"Both the “left” and the “right” pretend they have the answer, but they are mere flippers on the same thalidomide baby, and the truth is that neither side has a clue."

- Jim Goad
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16.
 
Re: Carmack is very smart indeed.
Jun 2, 2005, 17:25
16.
Re: Carmack is very smart indeed. Jun 2, 2005, 17:25
Jun 2, 2005, 17:25
 
Bah who's Carmack anyway? Let's hear from a true industry leader like Derek Smart about what he thinks of the patent system.

Dr. Michael Bolton's Hairdreser PhD, MD, LLP, DDS
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