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Zynga sued over use of personalized game content patents
Zynga sued over use of personalized game content patents
February 13, 2012 | By Mike Rose

Intellectual property developer Personalized Media Communications has sued social games giant Zynga in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, citing infringement of four of its patents.

PMC alleges that a number of Zynga's titles, including Words with Friends, CityVille and Farmville, use PMC's patented technology.

Four patents in particular are named -- numbers 7,797,717, 7,908,638, 7,734,251 and 7,860,131 -- covering "the use of control and information signals embedded in electronic media content to generate output for display that is personalized and relevant to a user."

Other aspects of basic functionality covered by the patents include controlled access of media content, personalized content based on individual attributes, management of downloading technologies, network management, control of targeted advertising, and purchase of media and other products.

PMC founder John C. Harvey explained, "Many years of time and labor went into developing our inventions and securing the patents that permit their practice. It wouldn’t be right to sit by and allow them to be infringed."

Gamasutra has contacted Zynga for a response to the allegations.

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Ujn Hunter
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So Zynga finally gets sued... and it's for all the wrong reasons? Funny.

Doug Poston
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Zynga gets sued all the time.

When you make money, you become a target.

Joshua George
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It's probably one of those "Defend it or risk losing it" things.

E Zachary Knight
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There is no such system in patents. You are free to sit on a patent for 18 years and let businesses build up a large coffer using technologies under your patent and then sue those companies just before your patents expire. While my scenario is slightly extreme, similar instances have happened in the past.

Jayson Dougherty
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Sounds like old-fashioned copyright trolls to me, all the copyrights are 2010/2011, long after this sort of thing was standard

E Zachary Knight
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These are patents. But your comments are spot on otherwise.

Michael Rooney
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I don't disagree with you at all, because their patents are super broad and were part of a bulk application by them where they filed for close to 250 patents with very similar technologies, but the patents were granted in 2010/11; they were filed for through the 80s and 90s.

Technically they are applicable for close to 40 years because they didn't have their expiration adjusted to be in line with their original application date. That is the real troubling issue.

Richard Davis
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Patent Trolls are slowing innovation #fail

Tadhg Kelly
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+1 to the chorus of "America, you really need to sort your patent system out".

Lennard Feddersen
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+1 - this sort of crap is just demoralizing and the US does need to get it sorted.

Eric Spain
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That patent .. covers every website on the internet. :(

They should be struck down.

Corey Cole
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(Disclaimer: Of course the abstracts are too general to tell whether very specific techniques are covered by the patents.)

But given what is written there, there is a considerable amount of prior art that should have invalidated the patents. In the mid-to-late 70's, I played on (and wrote some "lessons" for) the PLATO system at the University of Illinois which clearly encompassed all the techniques described in the patent. The UCSB system for connecting to PLATO expanded on that by using ARPANET - the predecessor to the Internet - as a communications medium for connecting additional stations to PLATO remotely without a direct connection.

Also in that time period, I worked for Geac Computers of Canada (now Geac Canada, a major corporation). We created online banking systems which networked multiple intelligent terminals (each of which had a CPU and memory, so was a primitive "computer") at multiple locations. We accepted input from multiple users (bank tellers) and distributed information to them. Our work fit everything in those patents ten years before they were filed. The terminals were built in the U.S., and a U.S. company expanded on the Canadian code and systems for use in several major U.S. banks; I worked on that project as well.

When I first started out as a programmer, we did not have a lot of building blocks of other people's code to combine into a project. We had certain general principles of software engineering (most of which I didn't know at the time!) and our imagination. From that, we tinkered with software until we had something that worked. I worked on several projects in the late 70's and early 80's that would have been considered "impossible" by most people at the time. I'm not trying to blow my own horn here - That's what every project done by every programming team (or often a single programmer) was like. We didn't file patents, but we constantly invented new technologies.

So yes, these patents look like hogwash, and no company should have the ability to patent anything that a clever high school or college student could come up with on his own in order to complete a project.

Robert Casey
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Definitely Patent Leeches

I would bet that this company neither invented these patented technologies, nor produces anything of value. They simply own a portfolio of what other bright minds invented long ago and are now effectively common knowledge. It's an unfortunate example of legal opportunism and doesn't really protect anyone's product interests. I think if PMC could point to their own products or works that are harmed by the use of these concepts by Zynga, they might have a case. But at some point, such litigation only stifles use of the obvious.