On July 8, the computer and video game blog GamePolitics.com reported that a law firm representing Ontario-based web services company Treehouse Avatar Technologies sent a legal packet to Bothel, Washington-based Bad Pug Games claiming that the independent development studio “was violating an obscure 858 patent.” Bad Pug is the creator of the space-themed strategy massively multiplayer online game “Starpires,” which the company said reached 50,000 signups in a February 2012 press release. In October 2012, Treehouse accused “Lord of the Rings Online” and “Dungeons and Dragons Online” creator Turbine, Inc. of violating the same patent. “As far as we are aware that case is still pending,” GamePolitics said.
Treehouse was only awarded United States Patent No. 8,180,858 in May 2012, and it covers “Methods for Presenting Data Over a Network Based Network User Choices and Collecting Real-time Data Related to Said Choices.” GamePolitics said the date the company received the patent from the US Patent and Trademark Office make the claims dubious. “Obviously games that use these methods have been around for decades, so it’s hard to understand why this particular company would be able to file for and obtain a patent for such a vague and common framework,” GamePolitics said.
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment acquired Turbine in April 2010. The tech company database CrunchBase reports that Turbine has 200 employees while Bad Pug only has three. As GamePolitics suggested, it certainly seems that Treehouse has moved from targeting larger companies to “smaller and more vulnerable” independent developers. “We could find no instance of Treehouse actually creating a product with the patent(s) it holds – in fact we couldn’t even find a web site owned by the company describing what it does to make money,” GamePolitics reported. “The only thing the company is associated with is using law firms to enforce the patents it holds.”
The first commenter on the GamePolitics story, identified as “badpuggames,” posted a link to a letter signed by Bad Pug Games CEO Matt Heaton entitled “Response to Treehouse Avatar Technologies Litigation Threat” on the document-sharing website Scribd. “After some debate over the weekend and reviewing the patents/claims in depth I sent off what I feel is an appropriate response to their demand letter today,” the comment said. “If patent trolls are going to stoop to the level they do, I don’t really feel inclined to be pleasant [sic] or professional in my response to them.”
The document has since been deleted form the Scribd site, but you can see a screenshot of it (WARNING: contains foul language) in a post on the storytelling website Koobismo’s Workshop. If you need legal help with a dubious patent claim or other intellectual property litigation matter, fill out the form on this page or contact our firm at [number] to have our Los Angeles patent infringement attorney review your case.
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Quick Klein Extra: The accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers reported that 2012 was a “banner year in patent litigation,” with the nearly 5,200 patent lawsuits filed representing a 29 percent increase over the number filed in 2011, and the median damage award going up to $9.5 million.