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Trapper Zoid

Patents in game design?

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I've got a question about patents. I'm not an expert in patent law, but as far as I understand the intent of the system, you cannot cover entire application domains with a patent, correct? For example, if I developed a foam game controller so that players could hurl it at a wall without breaking anything, I could patent the design of the controller or the process used to make it, but I couldn't protect the entire domain of unbreakable controllers. Or if I somehow developed a revolutionary algorithm for displaying 4D information on a 2D screen, I could only protect that particular method for solving the problem. I couldn't protect the idea of having 4D on a 2D screen itself. However, this is where I start getting confused, as I also thought you could protect pure algorithms with a patent. The reason I'm asking this is that I'm working on implementing some research that I've done, which is based on other research made by Ph.D. students back in the previous few decades. However, I've found out that someone has some patents that vaguely cover the domain that I'm working in. I'm fairly sure that the stuff that I'm using as the basis of my work is patent-free, and should provide me with some prior art protection. But I'm starting to get a bit overly paranoid about treating on other people's IP toes, and wouldn't want to risk any potential legal trouble in a few years time. Edit: forgot to add; I'm just not all that sure exactly what a specific patent will cover, since they are written in a weird form of English called "legalese" which seems to cover absolutely anything and everything even remotely close to the implementation in question. All those general claim points make my heat hurt!

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Writing patents is an art more than a science. Too vague and general, you risk hitting prior art or get your patent refused because it is "too obvious". Too specific and competitors will have slightly different variations to bypass it.

Patent text can be confusing at times, but the important part is "CLAIMS". Prepare a pen and put a checkmark on each clause you interfere with. Then read the dependency text that links them; that's usually an "AND", an "OR" or some text that refers to a set of clauses. Software patents are usually straightforward when it comes to dependencies, while organic chemicals (like pharmaceutical drugs) have a far more complex structure. In most cases, clauses are all linked with an "AND". Boolean algebra. Programmers are good at this, don't they?

If you can go through all your checkmarks and all the "AND" and "OR" clauses match *perfectly* with all the checkmarks then you're toast! Otherwise, you're pretty much free. I.e.:

if ( I match clause 1 AND I match clause 2 AND ... )
Pay royalties or avoid using this approach altogether
else
continue

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So those claims are connected by logical "ands"? If that's the case, then I'm okay. There's a few claims in there that will break my system, as they are too computationally and memory intensive to be workable. My system is substantially different from this one, and at it's core is based on A.I. decades old. It just aims for a similar target.

I was wondering how these patents work. I mean, have a look at the Magic the Gathering one (U.S. Patent 5,662,332). Except for the trading card claim, most of the rules could apply to a bunch of card games (like Five Hundred).

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