The saga of Worlds.com and the "Patent for the Worlds" continues. According to a press release from their patent attorneys at General Patent Corporation, Worlds.com's CEO, Thom Kidrin, has said that following their being awarded a third patent, he intends to sue Linden Lab, Activision, and ANYONE who has a virtual world.
As I mentioned at the end of 2008, Worlds.com have gone after NCsoft, a Korean company that owns the City of Heroes online game. Worlds.com claim that own patents to the concept of virtual worlds and that they want to be reimbursed via a licensing fee (for "licensing fee" read "shakedown).
In reply to an article in Alley Insider, I offered the following comments:
"Thom Kidrin is playing a risky game called "Bet The Company." If he wins, he takes all; if he loses, he may as well close the doors. And a quick peek at Yahoo Finance shows that the bet may not be a bad one considering the downward trend of the share price of Worlds.com.
"The discovery of "prior art" is certainly going to messy - but then again the patent attorneys employed by Worlds.com will presumably be quite happy to keep taking the check until this first case against NCSoft is resolved. And if this takes years, Kidrin can only hope his falling share prices provide enough cash to feed the ravenous hunger of the patent trolls.
"Only yesterday, General Patent Corporation, the company representing Worlds.com's patent interests, announced that a third patent has been awarded to their client "is a continuation of U.S. Patent No. 7,181,690 issued to Worlds.com in 2007 and bearing the same title."
The Neal Stephenson novel, "Snow Crash," is frequently cited as a precursor to the Metaverse and, as such, could be considered "prior art." In his Alley Insider piece, Eric Krangel proposes that the novel cannot be used as prior. However, that's not strictly true.
In reference to prior art, it would be legitimate to use "Snow Crash" insofar as any public document can be cited as such. In fact, the more public, the worse it is for the patent filer! The issue is how specifically the descriptions used in "Snow Crash" match up against the claims of the patent. A patent claim is typically made up of hundreds of single "claims,:" any of which can be challenged. The job of the patent attorney establishing a patent is to word the claims in such a way that they are NOT the same as public documents.
You do this by making very specific claims, which may seem ludicrously pedantic in the reading e.g. "The device of claim 9, wherein said key display means displays said plurality of selectable words with corresponding sequential numerical values" (one line from a 33-page patent that I own), and by being so specific you can prove "novelty" against any others.
So if a patent attorney thought that there was sufficient specificity in "Snow Crash" that matched a current patent, then it could be used as prior art. I have to say that I don't recall "Snow Crash" containing a description of how a virtual world works - it just assumes it and uses it as a backdrop to the story. Matching a sentence or paragraph of the novel to the Worlds.com patent could be tricky!
What is far more likely is for the defense attorneys to track down actual patents that possibly infringe on the Worlds.com set: Using a registered patent as prior art is much more powerful than using "Snow Crash" or Shakespeare - "Oh brave new world that has such people in it!"