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The Ten Most Important Video Game Patents

January 19, 2007 Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next

[EDITOR'S NOTE: While patents are still a controversial subject in the game industry, we still think it's important that Gamasutra covers them. If you have an opinion on any of the patents or ideas for both hardware and software described in this piece, please submit a Letter To The Editor with your points of view and we'll reprint them.]


When the editors at Gamasutra asked us to prepare a list of the top ten video game patents, we initially thought "Hey, no problem, that will be easy." As we’ve dug into this in a little more detail, we realized that what we signed up for was no easy task, because there are quite a few issues that make it difficult to simply whip up a list of the top 10 video game patents.

First, what makes a patent a video game patent? Is it a video game patent if it describes video game play methods? What about hardware? Audio/video processing techniques? There are endless patents that may be utilized in some form or another when playing a video game.

Second, what determines whether a patent is a good patent or a bad patent? Its coolness factor? Financial worth? Something else entirely?

Third, how do you compare patents that cover completely disparate technologies from completely different times? How do you compare the original Pong patent with a patent for giving "kudos" based on driving style? The coup de grace then is this: how do you rank patents that each derive merit from a different one of these metrics?

The fact of the matter is you can’t, because there are many ways in which patents can be valuable. Some patents are widely licensed and bring lots of licensing revenue to its owners; other patents introduce a key technological advance that becomes an industry standard; and other patents possess a certain je ne sais quoi, the “IT” factor of a really neat idea.

Needless to say, given these complexities, this list is fairly subjective, and we would be blown away if no one disagreed with us. Nonetheless, here goes…

The Metrics

We use very scientific methods in preparing this list: we sat around and asked each other "what do you think?"

Actually, we used a mix of the following in determining which patents make the list:

  • Relativity to Video Games: We would not consider a patent on a high-speed DVD drive to be a video game patent, even though millions of video games load from one. On the other hand, we consider a patent describing a video game play method to be principally a video game patent.
  • Financial Value: A good patent has financial value, period. That financial value can be realized in various forms, including licensing fees (voluntary or court-mandated), market share, and market leverage on secondary products (e.g., support products or accessories not necessarily covered by the patent), among other ways.
  • Technological Importance: regardless of whether a patent issued in 1980 or 2007, each patent has an effect on the video game industry. Many, ok most, patents affect the industry exactly this much: nada. But a fundamental patent turns heads and the industry takes heed of the idea, incorporates the idea in video games, and develops new and ever better ideas and technologies on that foundation. When in doubt, and all other things being equal, we consider any patent that has been litigated (or licensed) to be more important than one that has not.
  • The It-Factor: Sometimes an idea has that je ne sais quoi, or “it factor,“ that makes it stand out in the crowd. While many value a patent only by its financial worth or market leverage, sometimes a patent stands out on its own, regardless of what the owner does with it. When reading a patent that has the It-Factor, as opposed to thinking “duh! I could have done that,“ you think to yourself “why didn’t I think of that?”

The Patents

Politics aside, it’s difficult to select the top 10 video game patents when multiple patents have accomplished similar stature. Thus, we provide our top 10 types of video game patents, with examples for each. And by “type,” we refer to what the patent (or its owner) has accomplished in the industry based on the invention described in the patent (i.e., we gave preference to patents that were actually enforced at some time or another).

Also, we were asked to present the top ten video game patents--no one ever said we had to put them in order. So we didn’t, except for the top video game patent. Now, without further ado:

Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next

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