Palm has been hit with a law suit claiming that the ability of its PDAs to network wirelessly with other such devices on an ad hoc basis, in turn allowing users to compete in multi-player games, infringes the intellectual property of one Peer-to-Peer Systems.
Peer-to-Peer Systems maintains a US patent, number 5,618,045, filed in February 1995 by two Jerusalem residents, Michael Kagan and Ian Solomon. The patent was granted in April 1997.
Here's the patent's abstract:
An interactive multiple player game system including at least two playing devices communicating over an ad-hoc, wireless, all-to-all broadcast network. A playing device includes a processor for running a game scenario common to all of the playing devices within the network, a player controlled interface for enabling a player action within the game scenario, a transmitter for transmitting the player action over the network, a receiver for receiving player actions from other playing devices transmitting over the network, and a display for displaying at least a portion of the game scenario. The interactive multiple player game system can further include a play station device and an interface apparatus for. interfacing between the play station device and the playing devices.
In short, it's about as general as they come: connect any two devices over a wireless LAN and play a multi-player game with them and you're violating the patent. At least, if you make such devices you are, it seems.
So watch out all you mobile phone makers, all you console vendors, all you PC producers. Indeed, Peer-to-Peer is currently engaged in litigation to enforce the same patent against Cybiko, Inc., a maker of hand-held game computers for teenagers.
Since wireless gaming follows directly from wired gaming - the only difference is the transport mechanism - can this really be described as an invention? Clearly the US Patent Office believes it can.
Tellingly 5,618,045, doesn't cite the original network multi-player gaming patent, 4,572,509, David Sitrick's 1986 "video game network" patent.
Patent number 5,618,045 details a 'preferred embodiment', but adds: "While the invention has been described with respect to a limited number of embodiments, it will be appreciated that many variations, modifications and other applications of the invention may be made." That allows them to complain about pretty much anyone who offers a system capable of running wireless multi-player games. ®