Video games are at a crossroads between high-tech and high art, and given that both these spaces are frequent battlegrounds for copyright and intellectual property suits, developers often find themselves in the crosshairs of plaintiffs. On Sept 24, Activision Blizzard announced that it successfully had one such suit thrown out of court.
Originally brought by McRO, Inc. d.b.a. Planet Blue, the suit alleged that Activision Blizzard violated two patents by using software that automatically animated and synchronized speech patterns to the lips of characters in a number of big budget video games.
Falling in line with the Supreme Court’s recent Alice Corp v. CLS Bank decision, the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California threw the claims of Planet Blue out. Under the pretenses of the SCOTUS decision, abstract ideas that existed prior to the advent of computerized technology are not patentable solely by the virtue of being translated to new platforms.
As the court in this case determined that since Blizzard’s use of lip synching technology was predicated on long-standing methods, the patents were held to be invalid. If left standing, the patents in question, 6,307,576 and 6,611,278, would inhibit the progress of useful arts, the court claimed.
“Meritless patent cases such as this stifle innovation and the creative process across the industry,” said Chris Walther, chief legal officer of Activision Blizzard. “We will aggressively defend our investments in the innovative franchises at Activision Publishing and Blizzard Entertainment, as we did in this case with Call of Duty,®, ‘Skylanders®’ and ‘StarCraft® II,’ from entities whose sole purpose is to use patent litigation to hold innovative companies captive for monetary gain.”
This good news for Activision Blizzard comes the same week the company announced its intentions to fight a copyright claim filed against them by former Panamanian dictator Manual Noriega. In July, Noriega filed the suit against Activision for the unwarranted use of his name and likeness in the military shooter “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.”
Given the growing prominence of the video game industry, and its aforementioned relationship to art, likeness and software, the space is ripe for interesting IP and copyright developments in the very near future. It doesn’t hurt that Activision Blizzard’s net worth was evaluated at roughly $14 billion in 2013. An attractive top score to plaintiffs and players alike.