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Zynga and Zynga’s CEO, Mark Pincus, are – in my experience – not spoken of very highly at all.

It comes as no surprise to me, therefore, that Zynga has submitted a patent application that covers virtual currencies of the sort used in a variety of casual and free-to-play MMO games.

Oh no, not again... It’s a cold, black-hearted manoeuvre that demonstrates little respect or acknowledgement for others in the industry.

Ah, but wait! “What about prior art?” I hear you all cry.

The fact that so many others have been doing this sort of thing for so long should stop such a patent application at the post, and prevent it from ever being approved by the USPTO, right?

Wrong.

Prior art almost never defeats this kind of patent prior to approval, historically speaking.

It should, but in practice it almost never actually does. Prior art is usually most effective in challenges after the patent has been granted by the USPTO, once quite extraordinarily large sums have been spent in litigation.

That’s pretty much how it normally works. Asserting prior art as a challenge to block a patent being granted can be done, but success is really much rarer than you probably think it should be.

If you haven’t read through the document and its claims, it basically covers virtual currencies (or other such virtual tradeable value-tokens) which can be bought with legal tender, but cannot be converted back to legal tender.

That excludes virtual environments like Second Life and Blue Mars from being caught in this particular legal net, but will definitely cause trouble for many free-to-play MMOGs, and (quite notably) pretty much all of Zynga’s competitors; both categories of which use just these sorts of virtual tokens.

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Categories: Law, Opinion.



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