Mojang Sued by Software “Patent Troll”
Over the weekend, Mojang’s Markus “Notch” Persson revealed that the company was being sued by Uniloc, a Luxembourg-based company that owns a patent for a “system and method for preventing unauthorized access to electronic data.” Uniloc alleges that Mojang’s “Mindcraft” (a typo in court papers that’s been seized on by the media) infringes on this patent “by or through making, using, offering for sale, selling and/or importing Android based applications for use on cellular phones and/or tablet devices that require communication with a server to perform a license check to prevent the unauthorized use of said application.” Phew!
Uniloc, according to a post on Eurogamer, has also sued EA for the same reason related to Bejewelled2. The post also points out similar lawsuits against Microsoft and Square Enix.
The litigant offered an explanation for the suits on its website, revealing that it’d like to settle out of court:
“Uniloc plans to defend our patents aggressively whenever they are infringed. This protects our business and our shareholder value. In our view, it’s the right thing to do. […] Litigation is complex, time-consuming and costly for all parties involved. Whenever possible Uniloc tries to find equitable solutions outside of litigation and negotiates licenses or settlements.”
Notch, of course, doesn’t seem interested in a settlement:
Unfortunately for them, they’re suing us over a software patent. If needed, I will throw piles of money at making sure they don’t get a cent
— Markus Persson (@notch) July 21, 2012
He elaborated on his position against software patents on his Tumblr:
“…there is no way in hell you can convince me that it’s beneficial for society to not share ideas. Ideas are free. They improve on old things, make them better, and this results in all of society being better. Sharing ideas is how we improve.
A common argument for patents is that inventors won’t invent unless they can protect their ideas. The problem with this argument is that patents apply even if the infringer came up with the idea independently. If the idea is that easy to think of, why do we need to reward the person who happened to be first?
[…]Trivial patents, such as for software, are counterproductive (they slown down technical advancement), evil (they sacrifice baby goats to baal), and costly (companies get tied up in pointless lawsuits).
If you own a software patent, you should feel bad.”
On the flip side, the patent’s inventor and Uniloc founder, Ric Richardson, has hit back at criticism that’s come his way. He writes about waking up to a “large number of emails and tweets” decrying the lawsuit—presumably from Mojang fans. Richardson pointed out that he no longer owns the patent, that he holds a non-majority stake in the company, and didn’t actually file the lawsuit. As far as owning a software patent is concerned, though, Richardson still believes that’s the right thing to do:
“One expression that comes to my mind is the saying that having a great technology without a patent is like having a Lamborghini and leaving the keys in it.
[…] Just think about the logic here. The people complaining about the law suits here are complaining that a company is trying to protect its own right to make a living from a technology that the patent office has verified as unique and novel. If you disagree then track the patent office and voice your problems with the patents as they are published.
And yet, the technology in question is a system that stops people from pirating their software and helps them make money. Well if you think it’s so unfair, don’t use the tech. Do something else. No one is forcing you to use the technology.”
At this point, it remains to be seen where this lawsuit goes. Mojang was in court relatively recently, being sued by Bethesda-parent Zenimax over the use of the name “Scrolls” for an upcoming game—a suit that was finally settled. It seems a shame that they have to make their way back to the courtroom, but only time will tell if the case moves forward.