An apparent non-practicing entity (aka “patent troll”) has sued 21 social gaming companies, including Facebook and Zynga (“Farmville”) claiming that they infringe on its patent for monetizing the acquisition of “advantages” in otherwise-free games.
The patent at issue is US patent 7,076,445, for a “System and methods for obtaining advantages and transacting the same in a computer gaming environment.”
The patent abstract adds that:
In operation, a user may register his/her profile information with an advantages content provider such that when navigating through the computing application, the user have access to and purchase offered advantages and interact with interactive advertisements to purchase products and/or services. The advantages may be retrieved from a cooperating database and provided to the user. A record of the transaction is stored by the computing application in accordance to user profile so that the user may be properly charged for the transacted advantages or purchased products and/or services.
Many social gaming companies make use of micro-transactions (or micro-payments) to monetize game play. Players typically spend small amounts of money to gain access to higher game levels, virtual weapons and currency, costumes for digital avatars, furnishings for digital abodes, and other virtual goods and services.
A 2011 survey showed that more than 118 million people in the US and UK play social games at least once per week, and 31 million players have purchased in-game currency. Social gaming revenues are estimated to already exceed $1 billion, and are projected to reach $5 billion by 2015.
The ‘445 complaint was filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of California, by a company using the name “GAMETEK LLC,” based in Newport Beach, California.
A company also named GameTek, based in North Miami Beach, Florida, made video game adaptations of TV game shows like Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune in the early 1990s but filed for bankruptcy in 1997 and stopped doing business in 1998. The new GAMETEK (which does not appear to actually develop or market any games or other products) does not seem to have any connection to the old one.
The ‘445 patent was filed in 2000 and issued in 2006 to Shawn D. Cartwright of Philadelphia, PA. It was transferred to a company called Theados Corp., and then further transferred to GAMETEK.