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October 15, 2019
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Guessing the Future with Patents

by Ryan Ward on 07/17/19 10:39:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

                 Looking at the patents of companies is one way to predict what those companies are researching, and the gaming industry is no exception. Patents are a grant from the government to have a very specific monopoly on new inventions for a limited amount of time—typically 20 years, though it can vary based on the specific country. 

                To obtain a patent, inventors (or often the companies that employ the inventors) submit a patent application describing how the invention works.  As the Patent Office reviews the application, the inventors and the Patent Office examiners work to identify portions of the application which are novel.  Usually, those portions are very specific, covering only a very “narrow” portion of what was discussed in the overall application.  The claims of a granted patent are the only portion of the overall document which is granted the monopoly.

                However, just because a company is granted a patent, or discloses ideas within the patent application, does not mean that the company has intentions of implementing those ideas.  Companies file patent applications for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • Seeking to prevent others from performing the invention
  • Rewarding inventors within the company
  • Preventing others from obtaining patents on the same ideas

                For example, a company might file a patent application talking about A, B, and C, but may not plan to do any of those things in practice.  In that respect, trying to read the future of a company’s R&D from patent filings can be a bit of guesswork.  That said, we’ve looked at patents and patent publications that have been published or awarded recently to gaming companies, with the goal of identifying a few which may provide some insight into the future of gaming at those companies.      

                Of course, these companies file and receive lots of patents, so these are just some of the recent patents and patent publications.  Whether these technologies will come to market is unknown for the moment, but these filings could be early indications of what is to come.

 

SONY

                As previously reported by IGN, a patent application (JP2019-503013; WO2017/127631) related to backwards compatibility was recently published.  Up until the PlayStation 3 Slim, Playstation had backwards compatibility using a combination of hardware (e.g., older processors) and emulators.  Starting with the PlayStation 3 slim, the hardware was removed, and then with PlayStation 4 all backwards compatibility was removed.

                One example from this new patent application is allowing a processor to pretend to be an older process by providing, to a game or other application (from the newer, faster processor) the identification of an older processor. 

               Traditional emulators generally operate by either attempting to replicate the hardware exactly or interpreting how the older software was supposed to work, then generating similar instructions.  But interpreting the older software can result in problems when game developers used processor specific optimizations, which is why backwards compatible games for Xbox require individual preparation. 

                This new application may indicate that Sony has found a new way of doing software emulation, where the spoofing allows a new processor to pretend to be an older processor, and eliminates the need for individual game preparation.            

 

NINTENDO

            Nintendo continues to focus on new hardware, and specifically on their Labo variations.  One new variation (2019/0030423) recently published shows a driving/motorcycle variation, complete with rotating handlebars on each side and the screen in the middle. 

            Nintendo has been teasing the possibility of a new Wave Race – is this how it’s going to be released?  This also provides hope for a new Excitebike, or even variations for the Mario Kart controls.

 

MICROSOFT

                Microsoft has been in the news recently with respect to their Hololens projects.   On that note, Microsoft recently received two U.S. patents related to the Hololens.  Both of these had been previously published, meaning the overall ideas have been publically available for some time now, but now that the patents have actually been granted it may give Microsoft some extra security in releasing products. 

                U.S. Patent No. 10/210,661 is about modifying a personalized holographic display based on location and characteristics of the user.

                U.S. Patent No. 10/210,844 is directed to a holographic near-eye display.

                Without getting into too much detail, these patents seem to show how “crowded” the relative spaces for these Hololens areas are.  For personalizing content in an augmented reality space, it is apparently becoming more difficult to obtain broad patent coverage.  This means that lots of people have been coming up with similar inventions, and hopefully we can expect those products in the market soon—maybe in the form of smartphone AR experiences, Oculus, etc.  The technology to provide near-eye displays appears to be in relative infancy, and likely will continue to see dramatic improvements.

 

Conclusion

                As gaming continues to evolve, we can expect it to look very different from the current consoles and systems.  Microsoft’s focus on AR will eventually transform gaming.  Sony might incorporate backwards compatibility into the PlayStation.  Nintendo continues to find new ways to make gaming fun.  Now if only I can find my Power Glove…

 

Authors:

Andrew F. Pratt is a partner in Venable LLP’s Intellectual Property Litigation Practice. Ryan T. Ward is an associate in the Patent Prosecution & Counseling Practice Group. For more information, visit Venable.com.


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