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This is apparently old news, but nobody tells me anything.
    It all starts with Patent #4,734,690, which basically states that if your software moves a virtual camera to shift the user's perspective, the owner of this patent can take you to court demanding money. Which means game developers, really. And developers of 3D animation software.

    This was filed in April of 1987, and granted to a company called Tektronix shortly thereafter. Tektronix, no doubt understanding they'd lose this patent if they ever tried to enforce it, instead sold the rights to corporate law firm McKool Smith a few months before it was set to expire.

    Wasting no time, McKool Smith launched suit against Electronic Arts, Activision, Take-Two Interactive, Ubisoft, Atari, THQ, Vivendi Universal, Sega, Square Enix, Tecmo, Lucasarts and Namco.

    Shortly thereafter, McKool Smith decided the major PC manufacturers are also competing unfairly with their exclusive right to display 3D graphics on a 2D screen, because those companies provide video cards with 3D accelleration. They're encouraging the crime to take place, you see. HP, Dell, IBM, Toshiba, SCEA, Acer, MPC, Systemax, Fujitsu, Micro Electronics, Matsushita, Averatec, Polywell, Sharp, Twinhead, Uniwill, and JVC are all under suit for this grievous violation.

    It amuses me that Apple's not listed there - their new machines come standard with GeForce FX 5200 Ultra cards, do they not? That's more powerful 3D than I've got in my system...

    (To the best of my knowledge, they've not named any of the actual video card manufacturers -- those would be a seperate target, and apparently a less lucrative one. I guess they're working their way backwards, so they'd next want to go after any motherboard manufacturers that might have supported Intel or AMD's CPUs back when MMX/3DNow was a big selling point. And once that's settled, they can sue the hardware consortium responsible for standardizing AGP slots, and later PCI Express -- those guys are obviously in on the conspiracy.)

    For that case, they're also citing patents #4,730,185, 4,730,185, 5,132,670, 5,109,520, 4,742,474, 4,694,286, and 4,761,642.

    Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft were added a day later, for their respective game consoles volating patent #5,109,520 and that first one I mentioned, 4,734,690.

    You can read through all of those if you like, but it doesn't really matter. Are they valid innovations? Maybe. But they're not valid complaints -- the most recent of those was granted in 1992, and no word of warning was sent out between then and now. And more importantly, they're not held by the actual inventors. They're not the beneficiaries, and we're not protecting them from unfair competition. We're providing some other company with a very lucrative toll booth. That ain't right.

    At best, it's a loophole. At worst, pure evil.

    They are, of course, pushing for defendants to pay all their legal fees in each of these cases, which given that the law firm is suing on it's own behalf, kind of amounts to their own salary.

    These people know they're in the wrong. But with so much money on the line, I don't think that bothers 'em.
So, yeah. That was all reported back in November, and there doesn't seem to be any word since then. I'd hate to think everyone's quietly settling out of court -- they should be banding together and fighting to revoke McKool Smith's business license.

Any of you know more than this? Do share.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 23rd, 2005 03:43 pm (UTC)
One of a crop of such cases

I remember reading about this on The Register, much as you have done. Doing a quick search of The Register site for “McKool”, there were three stories, on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th of November 2004. Those are the same results as the ones you have.

However, on googling +"American Video Graphics" +patent, I found a very condemning references to the complainant in the case, American Video Graphics (AVG). In one of the articles on the case, USA Today suggests that the patent owners are actually fronts for law firms trying to make a few million bucks.

Speaking of Marshall, Texas, by some strange coincidence it's home to another patent hoodwinkee without a Web site, American Video Graphics. AVG is a limited partnership that has swept together seven patents it bought from tech company Tektronix, which apparently totally missed that the patents are worth billions. Doh!

These patents broadly describe the idea of displaying 3D computer graphics. That covers pretty much the entire video game industry.

Once again, lawyers have ridden to the rescue — this time McKool Smith of Dallas. In early November, the firm filed three lawsuits on behalf of AVG against more than a dozen video game-related companies, including Nintendo, Sega, Dell and Sony.

All in all, a pretty interesting use of my 20 minutes. ;)

Jan. 23rd, 2005 04:18 pm (UTC)
I somehow missed American Video Graphics altogether. New keywords to search under! Rock on.

...and in honor of your new user icon, I unleash one of my own. Just made this the other night after the startling realization that Adobe After Effects can spit out animated GIFs. Still had to drop a ton of frames by hand in ImageReady, and compress things somethin' fierce to meet the filesize limit, but that did let me automate a few tasks on the setup end of things. Maybe not a timesaver so much as a horrible distraction, but whatever. New user icon!

The clip that's based on, I did on over a year ago. here's that in DivX so you can balk at the compromises needed to cram it in under 40kb. The draft before that turned into a different icon a while ago, but not animated -- I had to drop the new one down to 32 colors, and I don't think the other would hold up as well.
Jan. 23rd, 2005 04:34 pm (UTC)

Very cool. Very distracting.
Jan. 23rd, 2005 05:08 pm (UTC)
Re: Nooch!

I should probably add that the DivX in those AVI's would only play using Mplayer at the command line on my Windows XP system, even with almost every codec known to man installed. If I were using Linux at the moment, the point would be moot because I use mplayer to play everything anyway.
Jan. 24th, 2005 12:44 am (UTC)
I think you can tell alot from the name of the firm
I wish I had a company called McKool Smith. Although I would call it McKool Logan and it would be a store along the lines of Spencers gifts. Of course as litigous as these guys are they would sue me for the name. So another dream of mine ruined by lawyers. I'm not legally allowed to discuss the others as it would violate the settlement agreements.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )


self portrait (escher)
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