Turbine has settled a lawsuit brought by little-known company Treehouse Avatar Technologies for infringing on US Patent 8,180,858. Specifically, they were accused of using a ”method and system For presenting data over a network based on network user choices and collecting real-time data related to said choices”. As a part of the agreement, pending litigation between Treehouse Avatar Technologies and Turbine will be dropped. This entire situation has been very strange from the start. Let’s put aside for now that “presenting data over a network based on network user choices and collecting real-time data related to said choices” is written so broadly as to describe half of what happens on the Internet (ever gotten an online insurance quote?). It takes very little research to come to the following conclusions:
- Treehouse Avatar Technologies is owned by Wi-LAN Inc., which describes itself as “An IP licensing company built on a rich history of innovation”. In other words, they make money by looking for people to sue.
- Treehouse Avatar Technologies sent threatening letters to several small game development companies earlier this year for the same alleged infringement.
- Treehouse Avatar Technologies has not proceeded with litigation against the smaller companies, where a settlement would likely not be as large, nor have they filed suit against any huge software developers such as Sony, Bllizzard or Turbine parent company Warner Brothers, where lawyers are more a-plenty.
- The patent in question was filed in 2012, while both games accused of infringement (DDO and LOTRO) were launched several years prior.
It would appear (to this non-lawyer, anyway) that Turbine was the victim of a broken US patent system and chose to settle rather than let the lawsuit carry on. I am a little curious as to why WB did not chose to fight this harder, being that it could encourage other holders of broad technology patents to bring forth litigation, but perhaps they were somewhat handcuffed by not being specifically named in the lawsuit.