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Patent trolls are shaking us down for selling “rubies” in our game (clickerheroes2.com)
487 points by guildwriter on Mar 2, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 190 comments



I passed this on to a friend of mine who has been doing virtual currency in online games since the mid 1990s (MUDs) and has been called as an expert witness in the past to defeat some of these "virtual currency" patents.


Hey. Developer of Clicker Heroes here.

More examples of prior art are very helpful, so that would help us out a lot. Do you have any examples of any of these MUDs that had virtual currency?


Yeah. I'm the friend he mentioned. Achaea.com was the first game in the world to use virtual currency/goods as its business model, back in 1997. Still live today. My company's at ironrealms.com. I mailed you offering help.


Wow. I actually remember playing your game when I was 17. I can't remember details about the virtual currency though.

The '838 patent was filed in 2000 (which is the effective date, 2007 is just the processing date). Did Achaea have virtual currency before then? If so, that would help us a lot.


Yep, we started doing it in 1997 and have plenty of documentation to that effect.


I love seeing patent trolls taken down.


Wow. Did you file a patent?


You are the real MVP. Carry on.


Their patent is for digital tokens ... Clearly rubies are your "unit of currency". Is there any chance it was supposed to be Rubles but was misspelled?


Holy crap. Blast from the past. Thanks so much for making those games; I killed years in high school on Achaea.


Glad to hear it!


For the rest of the HN community, how do you fight patent trolls like these? How much does it cost ballpark to defend a product?


I don't really know the ins and outs of how. I've never been sued by patent trolls. I've been threatened, just responded with some of the evidence I have and a, "Are you sure you really want to do this?" and I never hear from them again.

When I've helped defend other companies (two of which are among the largest/most prominent in the games industry), I've just provided expert witness testimony as to the existence of prior art. I've never had to testify about it in court, so I'm fairly sure that each time the trolls dropped it before going to court.

As to how much it costs - no idea. They had pricey lawyers though, so there's certainly some cost involved. I suppose it depends on how big the balls on the troll are, or perhaps how easily they think the defendant will be intimidated into just settling.


You're a good person. I hope a lawyer with your character contacts you about pursuing sanctions for vexatious litigation against these guys.

At least invalidating the patent.


How come if they have sued and lost based on prior art, the patent is already invalid?


They probably have never lost in court but rather settled or dropped the cases before they get to court.


Sorry you got rate-limited in the comments here; it's a restriction that new accounts are subject to because of past abuses. I've marked your account legit so it won't happen again. Welcome to HN. We hope you'll stick around!


The following is not legal advice and should not be construed as such. Short answer is that it really depends on your strategy and the rate of your firm. For example, a colleague of mine works at a top tier firm. They were hired to defend a major auto maker against a troll. They took the case to trial, won and then successfully countersued for repayment of fees. The whole thing took a couple years (patent cases move at a glacial pace), and the lawyers ended up billing the car company for several million dollars. I also don’t know that they were ever able to successfully collect on the countersuit judgement.

Another strategy is to try and invalidate the patent via the USPTO before it goes to trial. This often does work with bogus patents, but it’s still not cheap. I have heard the ballpark figure is $100k.


This is an effective threat because it means they lose the whole patent, not just the case against you.


$100k for a complete end-to-end IPR is at the bottom of the market. You can find it, but $2-300k is more the norm.


Play by mail games have you beat by decades. Which is the usual problem with patent claims (good!) and claiming credit for inventing an idea (endless arguments :-))


Just wanted to note it was filed Apr. 21, 2000. 2007 is when the patent was given.


Nod, thanks. Makes no difference to our prior art, happily, as we were three years before that.


Whoah this is so awesome. Thank you for making such great games!

Amazing who you can see on HN...


I've spent so many hours on so many alts on IRE games. I don't know whether to thank you or curse you.


Have you ever considered taking action against the lawyers representing the trolls? Most likely they are working on a contingency basis and will keep 1/3 of whatever the trolls can extract from you. It's likely that their friends, family and the people in their community have no idea they engage in these activities. I have heard of defendants using PR campaigns effectively in these cases. Oftentimes a potential $10k payout is not worth your friends and neighbors finding out how you really make your money.


I already named them and dumped the documents, and stated facts. I worry that doing anything to proactively impact their lives in a bad way could be used against us in a trial, because they could highlight it to paint a pretty bad picture, making us look really bad in front of a jury. We haven't done anything like that yet.

It doesn't matter that they started it or that we are in the right. If you ruin someone's life, it looks bad even if you had a good reason to do it.

They're the ones ruining our lives right now. I think a court will also see it this way. I think that helps us get them to walk away.


If you already don't have much money for legal fees, making things personal with an unscrupulous lawyer who doesn't mind filing petty lawsuits seems like a dangerous idea.


Please don't take any of my comments as legal advice but I have been through this nonsense before. The unfortunate thing about these lawsuits is that if you try to fight/defend them through traditional means, you almost always end up spending more than what you would have spent in an early negotiated settlement (especially when your time and stress are factored in). Unless the defendant has a lawyer friend willing to work at a discounted rate, $35k will not get him very far at all, especially if this goes to trial.

Who is this expert hired by GTX? He appears to be a startup guy himself so it's surprising he would get involved in this. It might be worth reaching out to him to confirm 1) that his signed statement is legitimate and 2) try to reason with him.


FWIW, This w3.org web standard for per-fee-links (dated Aug 1999) describes a micropayment system that can be denominated in arbitrary currencies, giving "airline miles" as one possible example:

https://www.w3.org/TR/WD-Micropayment-Markup/#Appendix%207


Ultima Online launched in 1997, but development goes back way before that. A core part of the game economy was gold that could be used for trade between players, as well as NPCs (non-player characters).

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultima_Online


Look up Diku MUD family. I used to hack on a population CircleMUD derivative many many years ago. We had virtual currency...people regularly bought and traded items for gold.


http://www.dcastle.org/

They've existed since 92 and had in game currency bought with cash since around that time.


One I just remembered from a decade or 2 ago: Realm of the Mad God.

Its a browser based 16 bit mmo, and used the free to play, micro transactions model way before it was popular.


That one was released in June 2011, according to Wikipedia, so not useful as prior at to a patent filed in the 2000s.


Really? Man, it is hard to keep track of time.


Holy shit it's Wolfey. It's me, Patrick from Meteor Games.

Lemme go through my rolodex of lawyers and see who owes me a favor. In the meantime, look into legal insurance. You mind find an affordable solution to drive these cunt fucks into the earth for cheap.


Off-topic, but maybe because of this thread's context, I recognise your name from my time on Aardwolf ~20 years ago. Thank you!


Trying to find other companies under the same threat is a great approach. In a similar situation, this allowed my company to fight a patent troll and share costs, so we didn't cave under the, "It'll cost us this much in legal fees anyway" argument.


There should be some kind of patent troll clearinghouse. Companies can check it to see if other companies are reporting the same shakedown tactics for a given patent.

Though, could a patent troll could get around that by spacing out the trolling? So by the time any company finds another company that's been trolled, they've already paid it up and don't have as much incentive to fight the patent troll after the fact.

They could even offer a "discount" conditional upon mandatory non-disclosure of the legal threat.


Most importantly, there need to be penalties for patent trolling. If you try to enforce a patent even though you must know that there is prior art (e.g. because you've been provided clear evidence of it), you go to jail. Not "the bankrupt LLC is liable to pay some money it doesn't have", the actual people behind it, behind actual bars.

Of course, the tricky part is not preventing legitimate patent litigation, but if you word it carefully enough, it could make it risky enough for patent trolls to not be worth it. The tradeoffs change when it's not LLC money at risk but the participant's personal freedom, so even if only 10% of patent trolls could be actually convicted, it might be enough to discourage the rest.

Or, of course, just dump software patents alltogether...


really liking your second option there ... if only there were some way to convince lawyers that their jobs were unnecessary.



Regarding trollingeffects.org, someone needs to submit this current case to the them. I searched for all of the following: 7,177,838 (the patent number), Playsaurus, Clicker Heroes, deBruin/Rubin/Rudman/Jacobs (the trollish lawyers). Nothing showed up.

The site does look like it's being maintained. The most recent case I found was from June 2017:

https://trollingeffects.org/demand/landmark-technology-llc-2...

Also noticed in the "About" section that Trolling Effects is a project of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Which is another great reason to support the EFF.


This is Daniel Nazer from EFF. Trolling Effects is still maintained and we still welcome any demand letter submissions. This site is not one of EFF's more successful projects, unfortunately. We've found that companies are generally reluctant to publicly post the threat letters they receive (perhaps fearing a vindictive response from the patent owner). In the year or so after the site launched we spent a fair bit of time encouraging companies to submit but had very little success.


> Though, could a patent troll could get around that by spacing out the trolling? So by the time any company finds another company that's been trolled, they've already paid it up and don't have as much incentive to fight the patent troll after the fact.

That's still a minor win, since it mitigates the amount of damage the trolls can do per unit time.


According to the OA there's only two years left on the patent. Spacing them out would at least limit the number of small companies targeted.


This idea has probably already been patented.


That's a great idea...perhaps a quick weekend project there we'll talk on!


As a sister comment pointed out, thankfully it has already been done! https://trollingeffects.org/


While it doesn't help in this case (since there is already a looming legal threat from an NPE), you can buy patent troll insurance now: https://www.rpxcorp.com/. This covers your legal fees in the event of litigation, which can scare off a patent troll who just wants a hit-and-run settlement.


It is ridiculously disheartening that this sort of thing even has to exist.

It's just taking the money you'd be forced to pay some exploitative patent troll, and giving it (well, probably/hopefully less of it, but still) to an exploitative insurance firm instead.


The insurance firm isn't exploitative. The patent troll is actively harmfully attacking people. The insurance firm (assuming they aren't secretly creating demand for their product) is mitigating the damage.

Locksmiths and firefighters aren't exploitative.


Insurance doesn't mitigate damage, it amortizes it (typically across a group of entities). The expected average annual claims on an insurer's policies need to be lower than the sum of the premiums or the insurer loses money.

This is why people in high risk categories pay more for insurance (eg young people and people with high performance cars have higher car insurance premiums because statistically they crash more often and/or have higher rates of total loss)


The insurance being used to fight the patents seems good: it's effectively a way for the group to pool resources towards not paying out to patent trolls. The success of the insurance company should be based on the reduction of payments to trolling, even when counting the insurance as paying to patent trolls

What'd be most disheartening is if the insurance was just to pay off the patent trolls


> The expected average annual claims on an insurer's policies need to be lower than the sum of the premiums or the insurer loses money.

All this time I thought they invested the float.


In this case it does because someone with insurance is a poor target for patent trolls. Assuming it becomes common you get 'herd immunity' as patent trolls become less effective which also lowers the cost of the insurance.


Also, "I have legal insurance, you can talk to my lawyers" might be a turn-off for trolls, effectively diminishing what would be spent in this specific case.


Well, yes and no. For the single insured it is there to mitigate damages that otherwise would be catastrophic. I hope that I will lose money by buying insurance, because that means nothing really bad happened to me.


Normally you'd be correct, but in this case troll insurance actually produces a game theoretic reduction in trolls. Going to court costs trolls resources, time if not money. By guaranteeing that all trolls will be fought tooth and nail, it makes trolling more costly, which makes it less attractive, which means there will be less of it.


Two problems:

First, you won't be able to get insurance for this case, because it predates your policy. A bit like getting fire insurance when your house is already on fire.

Second, an insurance company won't just write you a blank cheque for legal fees, they will take over the case and look for the cheapest way out, which will probably be settlement.


An insurance company dedicated to patent trolls might have a policy of fighting every case in court. If you have the resources to back up this threat, it means patent trolls are much less likely to actually go to court.

Hence, specific insurance against patent trolls could work by effectively taking away the easy targets for patent trolls. It's a bit like home-insurance companies that offer discounts on good locks to keep out thieves. Everyone except for the criminals are better off afterwards.


Yes, hence why I pointed out it didn't help in this case (there's already an NPE demanding license fees).

I don't know if the second point is a big deal. Even if they choose to settle, you've still mitigated your risk without going to court. And I suspect a patent litigation insurance agency is going to be motivated to negotiate very small settlements and/or actually fight it out in court, lest they gain a reputation as the company that hands out license fees.


Do you know what's the ballpark cost by any chance?


I got a quote from them 2 or 3 years ago for a company and the amount was for $7K/year. RPX said they came up with the price based on the likely danger of patent trolls to this company, so I don't know if the price they would quote now or to another company would be the same.


That's pretty reasonable compared to the litigation costs.


I wonder if they patented the "business process" of selling insurance against patent trolls.


This is the strategy that helped defeat the patent on podcasting. Also I would contact the Electronic Frontier Foundation.


Agreed! We found a great lawyer through eff for our own patent troll case.


I noticed the response from Playsaurus' attorney, as well as stating why CH2 is not infringing, lays out arguments suggesting the 838 patent should not be valid.

I'm curious if someone familiar with the matter happens to be reading - is there any provision in the system for Playsaurus to now have the case taken the court regardless of the fact GTX did not infact file a lawsuit, i.e. attempt to have it invalidated even if GTX drop the threat of the lawsuit? Or would they need to piggy back / support one of the other companies listed in this blog?


Yes. They would arguably have standing to bring a declaratory judgment action, asking a court to invalidate the patent. They should also look for (now relatively common) state law provisions that provide damages for bad faith demand letters.


That would be pretty expensive though. Is why nearly any non-huge company is going to take someone dropping their claim as a huge victory, and not try to go to court anyway.


Yes, you can seek a declaratory action in federal court, and more recently, you can seek to invalidate with the USPTO's PTAB through an inter partes review (IPR).



Isn't this what they did on Silicon Valley?


Yes, although with bad result of the other companies negotiating lower fees and throwing the protagonist under the bus. (If I remember correctly) I hope that in real world there would be some legal paperwork ensuring this doesn't happen.


This patent is absurd... selling credits was invented about a day after the concept of money itself. Accounting for those credits in a database was done by the fucking Egyptians. What the heck does this patent actually teach? It teaches absolutely nothing. It goes on for pages describing technology that already existed at the time and for decades prior to 2000. It’s a disgrace and an embarrassment.


I think credits actually pre-date currency.



Writing seems to have developed initially to keep track of favours.


In the PDF documents that Playsaurus has put online, the accuser's lawyers have redacted one line, and that's in the "The lawsuit they will file if we don't pay" document at the bottom, where it says:

  THE deBRUIN FIRM, LLC
  [Redacted]
  David W. deBruin (#4846)
  1201 N. Orange Street, Suite 500
  Wilmington, Delaware 19801
  Telephone: (302) 660-2744
  Facsimile: (302) 650-1574
  ddebruin@thedebruinfirm.com

  Of Counsel:
  RUBIN AND RUDMAN LLP
  Leslie L. Jacobs, Jr. (pro hac vice forthcoming)
  800 Connecticut Avenue, NW
  Washington, DC 20006
  Telephone: (240) 356-1549
  Facsimile: (202) 223-1849
  ljacobs@rubinrudman.com
  gcoman@rubinrudman.com
  Attorney for Plaintiff GTX Corp.
I was curious what was being redacted. Examining it with Acrobat Professional, I was able to discover that it says:

  /s/ David W. deBruin
So it's just a signature.

Btw, I'm pretty sure that the redaction was done by accusing lawyers and not by Playsaurus because the document author is "Leslie L. Jacobs", who is one of the accuser's lawyers.

Though it's still not clear to me why the accuser has two sets of lawyers (THE deBRUIN FIRM and RUBIN AND RUDMAN). Anyone know what might be up with that?


It looks like Leslie L. Jacobs, Jr., of Rubin and Rudman is associated with working in some manner on this case for the deBruin Firm, despite not being in the regular employ of the firm, and hence is listed in the filing as “Of Counsel” [0]

[0] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Of_counsel


Do you suppose that the deBruin Firm did this deliberately to distance themselves from the case, so they still get a cut of the money, but Leslie L. Jacobs, Jr. and his firm Rubin and Rudman get the potentially bad publicity for being patent trolls? Leslie L. Jacobs wrote pro hac vice ("for this occasion only") after his name, which makes it sound like a one time engagement and not a frequent collaboration with the deBruin Firm.


pro hac vice on this kind of filing refers, I'm fairly certain, to the lawyer not being regularly admitted to practice in the jurisdiction but being (or seeking to be) permitted to practice for that specific case.


deBruin and Jacobs are also involved with Genedics, LLC v. Meta Company. Trolling in VR/AR seems likely to become massive.


Letters can be ignored. Lawsuits must be responded to. And that same 35K will be offered as a deal after they file, if they file. They are trying to save THEIR legal costs, not yours. Let them sue. Fight it in court. Hopefully win. Counter-sue for your legal fees. Booyah.

Note: IANAL, and any actual lawyer would be less flippant. But seriously... don't let attorneys bully you.


Armchair Lawyer here. I've successfully fended off letters like this by simply not responding to them at all. My silence (and the implied BIG middle finger therein) laid down the gauntlet that their only options are to hire their lawyers to file their case, or STFU.


Doesn't the article say this patent has been successfully used in the past and thus there's likely precedence? :/


Yeah, 10 years ago. The anti-troll arsenal has grown extensively since then. Personally, I'd file for a USPTO patent review and try to take the patent away from them on the basis that it is neither novel nor innovative.


Pretty obvious patent trolling if they're only going for this rather smalltime developer and none of the high profile F2P game developers and big time game developers releasing AAA games with a premium currency.


Yep. I imagine if they went after Supercell that Apple or Google might get involved, at which point a tiny patent troll would get destroyed.


They may be trying to work their way up with settlements.


>Pretty obvious patent trolling

Not really. The patent was filed in 2000. Approved in 2007. It hasn't changed hands. The company makes software.

Believe it or not, this is the US system working as intended.

An obvious troll is a patent holding company, with no products, who purchases old patents, then goes on a suing spree for any company that uses printers.


Like the peculiarly specific definition of "startup" which is often used here, I don't believe that very specific definition of patent trolling is commonly accepted. I'm sure you could find examples from Slashdot 10+ years ago where it's clearly intended as a more general "abusive exploitation of patents for monetary gain".


The problem with accepting HN or Slashdot's definition is both groups are extremely biased in this matter. The general consensus is patent troll == non practicing entity.

https://thelawdictionary.org/patent-troll/

Everyone here can disagree all they want, but they're still wrong as far as most lay persons are concerned.


If someone can replicate your invention simply by hearing the title of your patent application, it's not "non-obvious to a person having ordinary skill in the art", so not patentable.


> Believe it or not, this is the US system working as intended.

I don't. And it's not.


Hard to decide how I feel here. I hate software patents and patent trolls, but I also hate what f2p and premium currencies have done to gaming.

Which is the lesser of these evils?


Not sure why this is even a question. The morality of the latter is subjective while the former is not.

Have you seen the patent picture? They literally have a cell phone, connected to a cloud, and other computers. How the fuck is this approved by the patent office? That is literally how every transaction via cell phones occur.


> How the fuck is this approved by the patent office?

Someone with a clue please go work at the USPTO and improve the situation. They're hiring:

https://www.usajobs.gov/Search?l=&l=&a=CM56&p=1&smin=17840&s...


Working for USPTO doesn't help. You'd have to go be the director of the USPTO


More like a legislator or judge


Or a single-issue, grassroots activist that knows how to organize and bring attention to the issue. If you want something bad enough, it's yours.


That they have such a weak patent is a problem with the system that permits it. Copyright should be enough for software.

The morality doesn't seem that disparate either - they are both exploitative.

I do stand corrected on this company after being linked to their post on reversing their model.


> That they have such a weak patent is a problem with the system that permits it. Copyright should be enough for software.

Agreed

> The morality doesn't seem that disparate either - they are both exploitative. > I do stand corrected on this company after being linked to their post on reversing their model.

Noted.

To clarify, I do not disagree that F2P can be exploitative. It certainly can be. There are cases when kids are playing games and end up spending thousands of dollars.

F2P can however, be done right. I've been playing Dota 2 since the beta which is F2P and only provides cosmetics; believe same is true for League of Legends. Hence, I was saying that one is pure evil and the other is lesser (and in some cases not evil at all)


Cannot argue that f2p where it is cosmetics and trivia is reasonable enough, although that seems to be very much the minority these days.

F2P where it's pay2win, or worse pay to progress, and endless loot boxes is gambling for kids, and I start to find the ethics questionable at best. Doubly so when the whole game is built around the shopping and ruins a decent franchise in the process. EA's reboot of Dungeon Keeper springs easily to mind here.


The morality of both of them is subjective.


Would be more useful if you can comment on how/when patent trolling would be ethical


I don't want to fix up my car, clean it, stage photos, or meet potential buyers for test drives, so I sell it to a company specialized in those activities.

In the same way, an inventor may not care to advertise his technology, negotiate licensing deals, or file lawsuits to enforce his rights, so he sells it to a company specialized in those activities.

Further, the existence of a secondary market gives inventors strictly more options than they'd have without one. Maybe no one will care to license a particular patent. Maybe it will be a long time before anyone cares. Maybe the business intending to use the patent didn't pan out, and the inventor doesn't really care about licensing it. The market can price in these concerns and still holder an immediate, nonzero payoff when he wants it. The fact that IP can have value even in bankruptcy probably makes investments and loans flow more freely to small businesses and startups.

The real problem is that anyone has an exclusive right to obvious and natural arrangements of software constructs, i.e. that the patent exists at all. The fact that it's a patent troll vs. the original inventor asserting those rights is merely an example of economic specialization.

The meta-problem is that patents are based on the idea that R&D is expensive and commercialization-minus-R&D is cheaper. But in our industry, ideas are cheap and execution at scale is hard.


There are certainly people who defend the concept of intellectual property in general and patents in particular as ethical. I don't agree but it's arguably even a mainstream position. I imagine at least some of them would argue that patent trolling is at least a necessary evil to achieve the greater good of intellectual property laws. I can think of a number of at least somewhat defensible arguments why patent trolls are on net a good thing if you accept the basic flawed premise that intellectual property is ethical.


What I mean is there are people who claim that they don't see anything wrong with patent trolling. For those people, it's not a moral problem, it's just a side effect of the way IP law work.

At the same time, from a certain perspective, F2P games aren't much different than complicated video poker games. They're designed to encourage in game purchases, and to hook people so they keep playing.


Edit I didn't read far enough ahead before replying and I see there is in fact a very interesting discussion about the ethics of F2P gaming, that this particular gaming company is actually having and welcoming that discussion and seems to be at least very interested in making the right calls about it. So I downvoted your comment, because it's a bit ridiculous that a comment simply stating "well you're wrong because it is objectively wrong" somehow got voted above people actually having a proper discussion about the topic oldcynic asked about. /Edit

No, there's no such thing as "objective morality". There just isn't, and that's by definition. Frankly I'm a bit sad that jlarocco actually got downvotes for that.

You meant to say something different, and what would have been more useful if you had been a little clearer on what you actually meant to say, instead of your claim that patent trolls are objectively immoral--which is factually untrue.

I'm going to guess (and I might be wrong because you weren't that clear) what you tried to say is that you consider the wrongness of patent trolls to weigh significantly more than the wrongness of facilitating addictiveness of f2p gaming and/or premium currencies. Except you didn't give any reason why, except stating that it is objectively so. So how was that for usefulness?

And neither oldcynic nor jlarocco stated that patent trolling is ethical (which is actually a loaded question).

There's actually all sorts of arguments you can bring to discuss about oldcynic's point. Such as by analogy of a heroin dealer complaining about the sad state of healthcare in the USA (and however you'd feel about that). Or, you know, how HN is a forum of entrepeneurs so topics like patent trolling goes closer to the hearts of some here, while the OP probably wouldn't dare to bring their sob-story to a support-forum for gaming addicts.

And that is called having a discussion. Not calling one side of the point "like, just your opinion man" (subjective) and the other not (objective).

I'd love to read such a discussion actually, because I'm a little torn on the topic as well. I'm not at all sure whether I should care about a gaming company making profits with in-game currency, while it's an open secret in this business that you can't really make it without actively exploiting the weakness and addictions in the human psyche (similarly to network security, not everyone is equally vulnerable, just because you won't fall for it doesn't mean the sweet rich old lady across the street knows how to install a firewall and not click on the whatsits).

On the other hand, we (on this forum) all (seem to) agree that patent trolling is a bad thing. Still doesn't mean it's objectively so.


This is a company that literally took the path of lessening the amount of money that they receive from their users because they didn't like the ethics of it. This is not a bad company.

https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2017-11-21-clicker-he...


This company actually left the F2P model for the second version:

http://www.clickerheroes2.com/paytowin.php


" $29.99 (fully refundable for a year after launch),"

That's an amazing "satisfaction guarantee", if you trust them to honor refunds.

"By pre-ordering, you're putting your trust in us to develop a good game without being completely sure about what you'll get. We feel the only way to return the favor is to put our trust in you."

I have no interest in their game, but I want to buy it anyway.


That was surprisingly refreshing to read. Not common to see an honest take on what's wrong with f2p gaming from a game company.


The latter -- f2p and premium currencies -- is the lesser of two evils. By a long shot.


I'd make a case for the opposite. Better the devil you know than the devil you don't know. Patent trolling is being dealt with, while we are only just beginning to grasp the consequences of F2P games. I have personally spent tens of thousands of dollars on such games.

But frankly, the real loss for me is that the games industry has transformed from a battle of the name brands, to a battle of the addiction engineering. The games aren't even fun anymore, and I don't know whether that is mostly due to the effects on my brain over time, or the games really getting worse.

Patent trolls, on the other hand, affect far fewer people, and are less likely to cause lasting psychological harm.


You’re in the minority if you’re spending that much on games and you don’t know why. I know dry little about it, but I assume you’re in the realm of addiction and should find help with that.

Also, though: The game industry is experiencing a lengthy renaissance. Stay away from F2P games and dive into the huge catalogue of amazing indie games that deserve your attention and are made by people actually trying to move the art form forward. Way more satisfying, aesthetically and financially.


I hadn't checked this, but noticed the reply now. I never spent more than I could afford, but I did spend much, much more time than was healthy. I've since gotten it under control, as I've realized that if I kept doing that, I would never accomplish any of my life goals.

The problem with the indie games is that there are simply too many to choose from, and the ones I like tend to be just as addicting as the F2P games.


Side with the free market here: If there are people willing to pay real monies for in-game currencies, then no problems. It's a voluntary transaction.

The otherwise is not true.


I have 4 kids, two of which are at an age where they just throw ALL their money at these damned games. The other two will hit that stage soon enough.

In my mind these games are no better than poker/slot machines. Adults should be responsible for themselves but kids can't be held to the same standard. So just one more thing I have to police.

This system is a rotten, rotten idea.


So, then, teach your kids that.


It's not even close. People have the freedom to make bad games; there's no way these trolls invented this idea and empowering them endangers everybody.


"Is murder okay, as long as you're murdering Hitler?"


People need to stop casually invoking Hitler when making serious or semi-serious arguments or analogies. Like, I hate patent trolls and think in game payments are pretty terrible. However lets put those 2 concepts in the same neighborhood. That neighborhood is nowhere near the neighborhood of the systemic annihilation of a population in as ruthless and demeaning a fashion as Hitler did. That neighborhood, to carry the analogy, is somewhere on Elon's mars colony if patent trolls & ingame payments are in Brooklyn.


Yeah, and suing someone isn't murder.

Making an analogy doesn't imply that the things being compared are of similar magnitude. That's not even the point of analogies.


My argument wasn't really serious.


Doesn't this basically boil down to "Something on a COMPUTER" and thus should be invalidated by the Alice Corp decision? Not to mention the TON of prior art, even prior to the 2000 patent (what does the 2007 patent provide over the 2000 patent?) I'm positive you could purchase credits on BBSes that you could then use for ecommerce.

I haven't read the entire patent, but I fail to see the difference between the 2000 filing, and the 2007 filing. So how does that work?


Back in the 1970s, I played Monopoly on the PDP-10. The Monopoly money was "virtual".


> their behavior to be abusive and terribly unethical.

Yep, it's called protection racket.


Of course these trolls have no face or names. Hope someone can track the actual owners down.


http://gtxcorp.com/

Appears to be this company. Or they're using this company's name, but that would be wildly stupid of them to attempt if they want any chance at all of winning (which they already don't seem to have -- way too much prior art).


It is clearly this company - http://www.gtx.com/

The inventor of the patent is listed on the register as Marvin T Ling. [1] The gtx.com website has a press release stating the owner and founder of the company is Marvin T. Ling. [2]

[1] http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=H...

[2] http://www.gtx.com/about/press/aml_president_pr.asp


> Method and apparatus for conducting electronic commerce transactions using electronic tokens

So cam girl sites are under threat?


Once they get some precedent under their belt. They have to do this via small-time operators first because porn people have money.


If most or all the small-time operators settle, that doesn't set precedent, though, right? A judge isn't going to look at a future case and say "well, all these other companies settled, so seems like the patent is valid". That would be absurd.


Settling doesn't set precedent. Doesn't matter how many settle.


The way I understand it this is done to make the terrorists' threats more credible to other victims, not to judges. But I would also not put too much trust in judges in particular jurisdictions, such as EDT.


What about ICOs?


> So cam girl sites are under threat?

That would be a real tragedy...

Seriously though, some of those girls make some serious money for working a few hours a day.


So it's casino chips, but on a computer?


Specifically says at the bottom of the post that it's not:

> "As far as I can tell, the guys shaking us down are NOT these guys in particular: http://www.gtxcorp.com/"


The article explicitly states that is NOT the company, but rather another company with exact same name.


> EDIT (March 2, 2018): It appears that there are multiple "GTX Corps", so I want to make it clear that the ones going after us don't have much of an online presence

IANAL, just was curious about the identity and did some amateur sleuthing. Results below...

The GTX Corp in Wikipedia seems like a real trading company but there is a couple of odd things about it. It's a public company made of 7 (seven) people; they have tracking products and 80 patents. Theoretically, it could be that they supplement the legit business with patent trolling. But yes, it's not very likely.

So I went to look up the patent info instead. If you google "US patent 7,177,838", you see that it's somewhat of a holy grail for the patent trolls. It was used to sue Amazon, Apple, Visa, News Corp, Starbucks, and the whole alphabet of multinationals. Many of these settled, as the lawyer of Playsaurus mentioned. The name of the suing entity was Actus, LLC (https://www.socialgameslaw.com/2010/06/actus-sues-for-virtua..., https://www.law360.com/articles/124471/apple-amazon-out-of-a..., https://www.law360.com/articles/165880/visa-m-t-bank-resolve...). They don't seem to have any presence online, although there is a website for Actus (http://www.actus.company) but even though it looks like a front for foreign intelligence operations, it does not seem to have anything in common with that Actus.

The patent public record is here: https://patents.google.com/patent/US7177838B1/en?oq=7%2c177%.... It contains a history of assignments, giving a clue to what GTX actually is.

The first re-assignee was GTX Corporation (Arizona). The current one is GTX Corporation (California). Between that, it was PayByClick and Actus, which is when the mega-suits were filed. It seems improbable that the two GTX companies are completely different.

The search in the California register turned nothing meaningful (https://businesssearch.sos.ca.gov/CBS/SearchResults?SearchTy...). It's either the entities are named somewhat differently or dissolved.

The search in Arizona, on the other hand, produced interesting results. This is the right GTX: http://ecorp.azcc.gov/Details/Corp?corpId=F00380025. Founded in 1987, business type: technology. Details below.

The patent was filed by Marvin Ling on Jan 26, 2000. Already in May it was reassigned to GTX. A family or an acquaintance? Let's see: the current CEO is Andrew Ling. From the foundation until 2008, however, the president was Marvin Ling, including the year 2000 when the patent was filed and reassigned. Andrew Ling appears to be a lawyer in Arizona; his LinkedIn profile confirms that he is the right person: https://www.linkedin.com/in/andrewlingattorney. And the website actually exists where it's supposed to be, just not liked by Google: http://www.gtx.com/about/press/aml_president_pr.asp.

The patent itself was reassigned to Pay By Click (sounds like an entity materially interested in the patent) in 2002, after which the annual report filing became irregular. In 2005, GTX received a notice with a threat of the license revocation; same happened in 2013 and 2014. It became better after that which coincided with the reassignment of the patent.

Summary. It looks like it's not a proxy set up by lawyers to sue. It appears to be an old family business which was dormant for a while and now wants to capitalise on an old patent that either someone else or a different structure used to shake down a few giants.

While the GTX is registered in Arizona where its owners live, it seems to be a Delaware corporation. I don't understand why they hired a law firm in Boston to threaten a company in California. The guy is a lawyer; does it mean he is not serious about the lawsuit? Does he expect you to haggle and offer, Russell Peters style, $34,500 as the last price?

Good luck.


Id like to see worse. Let every patent be stripped from these predators. They also advertise: https://patents.google.com/patent/US7016536 which surely has plenty of prior art in image processing.


I have a feeling the accuser simply googled "premium currency" and found the article posted by Playsaurus about abandoning F2P. They probably just took the top 10 results skimming for smaller companies that were F2P. I guess this is what you get for self publishing a game.


I hope this message reaches you over all the noise here.

GTX Corp. may be a corporation whose securities are traded publicly.

However, they ARE NOT legitimate.

They are pure scum on another level beyond what they are doing to you.

They have had their stock promoted. Pump & Dump.

Have a look over these articles on Seeking Alpha for more.

https://seekingalpha.com/symbol/GTXO/analysis-and-news

I'm not sure how I would go about handling these guys if they came after me for something. I don't think I would be so polite.


According to their flow, they collect user information after displaying a policy. My point is, if you re-arrange their flow chart, do you "invent around" the problem? (thereby negating their claim that you violate their patent(since their patent still relies on a specific process)?


Perhaps teach an expert system to automate selecting a flowchart on the fly for each user, that will accomplish a given set of requirements and also not be found in a search of the existing patent corpus. Don't forget to patent it though.


Oi, an AI that automatically generates patents? Sounds awful! It would just attempt to patent every current idea but in a different order.... oh man, please no.


I think it is called IBM.


How is the price settled upon? I mean, why ask $35k specifically? Why not 3.5k or 350k?


That's about what it costs to draft and file a 12(b)(6) motion to kill the patent at the start of a case for lack of subject matter eligibility under Alice v. CLS Bank.


$35K simply to file a statement that the patent is BS?


Well... That is saying like... 35k simply to design a logo and a website?


350k is too high a price to shake down from small companies. 3.5k won't recoup enough value.


The price is set "low" to make it more appealing to just settle rather than pay the lawyer and court costs.


I think that a real statistic on previous trolls actions and settlement or litigation outcomes would greatly simplify the reasoning. Would the open data from thetrollingeffect website be of any use for building a model?


Unfortunately they may have more tricks up their sleeve. That is, once they get payment for one patent, effectively getting an implied acknowledgment of the merits of the (meritless imho) patent, they might then reveal their other related patents, and offer to license those for even more money.

I wonder how many of these can be invalidated with trivial filings? These patents all have PayByClick Corporation as the assignee:

7,676,432: Methods and apparatus for transacting electronic commerce using account hierarchy and locking of accounts

http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=H...

7,376,621: Method and apparatus for conducting electronic commerce transactions using electronic tokens

http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=H...

7,328,189: Method and apparatus for conducting electronic commerce transactions using electronic tokens

http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=H...

7,249,099: Method and apparatus for conducting electronic commerce transactions using electronic tokens

http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=H...

7,249,060: Systems and methods for distributing on-line content

http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=H...

7,177,838: Method and apparatus for conducting electronic commerce transactions using electronic tokens

http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=H...

6,876,979: Electronic commerce bridge system

http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=H...


Can american patent trolls equally easy bully companies outside the US?


Probably not. US Patents are the cheapest patents to get.

If, say, a German company infringed on a US Patent by selling to a customer in France, that would be completely legal, unless the US Patentholder also had a French patent, which is often not the case. They'd have to prosecute in French court as well, which, given the size of France's market vs. the US, would be Pyrrhic (with a capital P) at best.

The calculus for being a patent troll requires a bizarre confluence of factors (size of market, expense of litigation, certainty of litigation, cost of patents, venue procedures) that are likely to limit the phenomenon to the US.


Other countries also have a loser-pays-costs rule for lawsuits, so the risk to NPEs are much higher if they lose an expensive case.


And also software patents are non-existent in the EU as far as I know so it would not work at all.


IANAL, but no (if I understand correctly). Companies outside the US (all the way outside, with no US footprint) are subject to the laws of their own land. You could sue them in US court, and never collect a dime. You could sue them in their own courts, have the lawsuits be subject to the laws of their land, have to spend a lot more money on lawyers... and still (probably) never collect a dime.

If they have an office in the US, though, you can sue the US division in US court.

If they have no office but some sales in the US, I'm a little less clear on...


Only if the company outside of the US trades in the US. But that normally involves setting up a subsidiary, in which case they do have a US company.

There is no such thing as an international patent.


There have been a number of cases of the terrorists going against US-based customers of non-US entities.


has someone tried patenting making money buy being a patent troll? that of course would make one mega patent troll to deal with.



Way too many instances of prior art. Unfortunately.


one example of prior art that has virtual currency in a multi-player game:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trade_Wars


Looks like software patents can actually benefit society in some cases.


Not sure I follow - I think you're saying the way the patent is worded means the game dev is protected, but if there was no patent at all there would be nothing to attack them with in the first place?


They're taking a jab at in-app purchases.


How did you arrive at that conclusion after reading the linked statement?


I assumed it was a snarky shot at in app purchases for games.


This might sound stupid but hear me out. Can you sell physical rubies that people can print on a paper or you could ‘ship’ them to the buyer? Meanwhile users can use their digital equivalent just like a gift card works. This would bypass the system.. brilliant isn’t it?!


This is hating the player, not the game. The only way to win is not to play. Relocate to a country with no software patents. I hear Estonia is great. Do all your filing online. Be a remote working foreign contractor for your own company :P


Moving to Estonia just to avoid software patent trolls is an extreme case of letting the tail wag the dog.


50% of the companies in the US incorporate in Delaware. Is that also tail wagging the dog?

https://www.delawareinc.com/corporation/


One doesn't move to Delaware simply to register a company there.


No, because there are very good reasons to incorporate in Delaware. I would infinitely prefer to try to sell or get investment in a Delaware C corp than I would in an Estonian company, even if it didn't involve living in Estonia. Getting sued by patent trolls is just such a minor consideration in founding a company, it's not even worth thinking about.


They don't move to Delaware, they just file paperwork there.


If you're still selling to the US, I don't think this would protect you. Your product can be banned anyway.


Your product could be banned, but the sue-er would never collect any money. So, if the sue-er is a patent troll, why would they bother? They don't care about banning competition. They'd burn a lot of money on lawyers for zero income. That's not a fight that they want to pick.


Their gain would be a chance that you pay the fees. Because outside of specific local markets, no small game producer could afford dropping the US market (and possibly US-based delivery systems like Steam, Play, and AppStore) and succeed.


Okay, they ban you, you lose all the US revenue. Then, other companies see that they may get banned as well and lose their revenue, so they give in.


If the company was making 35k/yr operating in the US and you sue for 35k one-time fee, do you think they'd do it?


If you own an Estonian corporation, they can sue you.


Estonia's marketing as an e-nation doesn't live up to the reality.




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