Virtual worlds firm files IP suit on Christmas Eve

Worlds.com, which launched its first 3D avatar environment back in the mid-90s, has retained an intellectual property law firm and has filed patent infringement suits. Its first, against game developer NCsoft, was filed on Christmas Eve.

The company claims that NCsoft -- the publisher of Lineage and City of Heroes -- is infringing on two patents. The latest of the two, "System and method for enabling users to interact in a virtual space" (US Patent 7,181,690), was filed in August 2000 and awarded in February 2007. It describes a method for displaying other avatars and non-avatar objects (e.g., background items) to multiple users.

The earlier patent, "Scalable virtual world chat client-server system" (US Patent 6,219,045), was filed in November 1996 and awarded in April 2001. It describes how such a virtual world environment can be made scalable.

In mid-December, Worlds.com retained the IP-law firm Werner David and, in announcing the choice, specifically mentioned the two patents as protected intellectual property. Werner David's especially well-known for their work on biotech patent cases, but tech folk may be amused to hear that the firm has sued IBM and won while representing Diebold (the parent company of the e-voting machine maker), in a suit regarding ATM machines.

To make the litigation decision, Worlds.com worked with General Patent Corporation, the oldest (est. 1987) of the intellectual property management or (alternately) patent enforcement firms. Such firms usually first attempt to negotiate with companies that might be infringing on a client's patent. If this situation proceeds as have similar situations in the past, Worlds.com is likely to be pursuing licensing arrangements with a number of companies, perhaps larger firms such as Linden Labs (home of Second Life) or Blizzard Entertainment (home of World of Warcraft), turning to litigation when talks fail.

Tracking the situation over at Virtual Worlds News, publisher Christopher Sherman agrees that Worlds.com probably didn't simply decide earlier in the month to ignite the lawyers. "I would imagine they've met with some resistance from some of the major companies and therefore have been planning a litigation strategy for some time. Just my hunch."

Word from the licensing firm wouldn't seem to contradict that assessment. "The Worlds patents represent exceptionally valuable intellectual property," said Alexander Poltorak, GPC's chairman and CEO, in a press statement when the Lerner David retainer was announced. "We welcome licensing inquiries from the online game industry."

Worlds.com representatives weren't available for comment by our deadline.

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