Three-Dimensional Patent Holder Takes Gamers to Court

Gretchen Gallen
BEAVERTON, OR. – Similar to the recent patent infringement war waged against the online adult industry by Acacia Technologies Group, the gaming industry was faced with a formidable threat this week when a Texas law firm filed a 3-D patent infringement lawsuit against some of the biggest names in video game design and distribution.

Based on a patent awarded in 1987 to William Waller and the patent's designator, Tektronix Inc., the law firm is alleging that a list of gaming companies are infringing on its patent by displaying 3-D graphics in their gaming products.

Texas-based McKool Smith is alleging that Electronic Arts, Atari, Sega, Lucasarts, THQ, Activisiom and Vivendi Universal have infringed on a "method and apparatus for spherical panning," also known as the process of manipulating an object in 3-D space and projecting the results onto a 2-D screen.

The patent's abstract definition states that it covers a "graphics display terminal that performs a pan operation with respect to a view motion center to effectuate spherical panning, thereby providing perspective and non-perspective views. Three-dimensional instructions stored in terminal memory are re-transformed in accordance with a panned direction. Also a zoom feature is provided so that displayed images may be magnified as desired."

There is some speculation that the patent holder will first try and license the biggest players in the gaming industry before approaching other industries that use 3-D technology.

According to GameIndustry.biz, it is conceivable that over time, unless the patent is invalidated, that McKool Smith could claim infringement against every single 3-D game created since 1987.

However, some of the defendants claim there is ample proof of prior art and that many games created before the patent was approved utilized the same method of using 3-D technology.

In addition to the companies listed in the lawsuit, McKool Smith is also singling out a list of smaller companies it claims have also been infringing on the patent, although those companies have not yet been named as infringers.