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Patent troll Treehouse targeting small MMOs

Patent troll Treehouse targeting small MMOs

July 12, 2013 | By Kris Ligman

July 12, 2013 | By Kris Ligman
More: Console/PC, Social/Online, Business/Marketing

GamePolitics reports that at least four massively multiplayer online games have received legal notices from a law firm representing Treehouse Avatar Technologies, holding that the MMOs "may be infringing" on one of Treehouse's patents.

The companies contacted include Bad Pug Games (Starpires), Prairie Games (Minions of Mirth), eGenesis (A Tale in the Desert) and HiTech Creations (Aces High). Each company received a letter on or around July 1st from New Jersey-based law firm Lerner, David, Littenberg, Krumholz & Menlik, LLP, warning them that their titles could be infringing on their client's patent (U.S. Patent 8,180,858), concerning a "method and system for presenting data over a network based on network user choices and collecting real-time data related to said choices."

A copy of the letter sent to Prairie Games is available on GameLaw. However, all the letters are virtually identical. They do not explicitly call out the recipients' games as infringing, but suggest that they may in violation -- and offer to sell the companies a license, just to be safe.

This is a common tactic of patent trolls. NewEgg recently defeated another litigious company which had succeeded in extracting millions in patent licenses from online retailers over an ambiguously-worded patent.

Some of the MMO developers targeted by Treehouse are skeptical that the company has a valid claim. "We released all the source code to our 3D MMORPG into the public back in 2007," Prairie Games' Director of Product Development Randel Reiss tells GamePolitics. "Prior to that, as far back as 2005 we were publishing [with] Wizards of the Coasts' System Reference Document (SRD) -- WotC's decade-old royalty free d20 System License."

It should be noted that Treehouse's patent was filed in 2010.

When threats don't work, lawsuits can be the next step. Treehouse filed suit against Turbine Entertainment (now part of Warner Bros. Interactive) in 2012, regarding the same patent. The case is still pending.

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