Virtual worlds — or more broadly, 3D online spaces — have been around for a long time. But last month, worlds.com hired lawyers to enforce a patent for the idea, claiming they invented the concept back in 1995. The first target for lawsuits: NCSoft, the Korean company behind games like World of Warcraft-wannabe “Guild Wars.”
But if some companies think there’s free money in suing others for infringement, there are other companies who think there’s money in trying to stop them. Enter self-described “patent research company” Article One Partners, which is offering a cool $50,000 to anyone who can offer proof in the way of “prior art” substantiating the virtual worlds idea existed prior to 1995.
AOP’s Cheryl Milone, a patent lawyer, explained to SAI how her two month-old company works: Article One crowdsources the research behind patent investigations to the entire Internet, and makes the reward big enough to motivate people. The company then turns around and sells the research to interested parties, like NCSoft.
If NCSoft files AOP’s findings with the court as part of the public record, so be it. But if a company can use AOP’s research to settle the case out of court, there’s nothing stopping Article One from selling the information again.
Other outstanding cases with $50,000 bounties include research into Pfizer’s (PFE) patent on Lipitor, and a patent case involving a claim by Konami against Guitar Hero creator Harmonix.
It’s an interesting idea, and a more proactive approach than rival anti-troll concepts like IBM-backed (IBM) Linux Defenders. But Milone does over one caveat: The reward is first-come, first-serve, so the first person to file convincing proof on the virtual worlds suit (or any other) gets the money.
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