I have a question concering the public reveal of new patents filed by Nintendo Co., Ltd., and how such patents are legal given how general the concepts are, and how this would effect development of games, both Indie and AAA.
I am particularly worried as I am a game developer myself (well, aspiring, I do not have anything published yet), and therefore this could potentially impact what I am allowed to publish.
From what I understand, a patent must:
- The invention must be statutory (subject matter eligible)
- The invention must be new
- The invention must be useful
- The invention must be non-obvious
The rule about having to be new is one of the largest points in my confusion about these patents:
- the invention was known to the public before the applicant filed for patent protection;
- the invention was described in a printed publication before the applicant filed for patent protection;
- or the invention was described in a published patent application or issued patent that was filed before the applicant filed for patent protection.
So, the new patents include several things that I would argue are too general or too stifiling to be able to be enforcable, which concerns me. For instance:
The First Problematic Patent:
“the movement of movable dynamic objects placed in the virtual space is controlled by physics calculations, and the movement of the player’s character is controlled by user input. When the player’s character and a dynamic object come in contact in the downward direction relative to the character (in other words, when the character is on top of an object), the movement of the dynamic object is added to the movement of the player’s character.” or in the orginal text「本実施形態のゲームでは、仮想空間に配置された移動可能な動的オブジェクトを物理演算に基づいて移動制御させ、操作入力に基づいてプレイヤキャラクタを移動制御させ、プレイヤキャラクタの下方向においてプレイヤキャラクタと動的オブジェクトとが接触している場合に、当該下方向に接触している動的オブジェクトの移動をプレイヤキャラクタの移動に加える」the patent itself can be found at https://www.j-platpat.inpit.go.jp/c1800/PU/JP-2023-103273/6B1E7E15670E730C5DEAF877AF466F706D91B47CAD6DC015008FDC07DA623400/11/ja
This is essentially saying that they patented the idea that when a character is on top of a moving object, they would move with it. This is concerning to me as this is a mechanic present in a very large amount of games, due to the fact that it is something observable in reality itself.
It is not new or innovative, it is obvious (due to presence in observable reality), and it was openly known to the public, and used in many products not made by Nintendo Co., Ltd., long before the passing of the patent itself.
Therefore, it is not just too general (in my opinion) and commonly used (as in, it has many predecessors which make use of the same mechanic) to act as a valid patent, it is also, essentially, an attempt to patent aspects of real physics.
A Second Problematic Patent:
Another thing they patented was a rule in the code that states that, when you have an ability to move an object in space, you are not able to move an object your are standing on, or an object that is attached to what you are standing on. I cannot find a good translation of it, so here is the Japanese text:
This is essentially saying that, in a virtual space, when a second dynamic object is connected to another dynamic object that the player is standing upon, it would be treated as part of said object, and therefore not be able to be moved via an object manipulation action. While not as limiting as the first one I mentioned, I still feel it ultimately is too general in concept.
This is another aspect present in most games with such an object movement mechanic before the filing of the patent, which is instituted in order to prevent one from breaking the intended manner of playing the product by simply standing on something and using it to fly by picking it up. This is also something that, ultimately, rooted in real world physics. Which can be proven via how one cannot fly via pulling on their own bootstraps, or push a car they are in, as they are part of the system.
Thus this patent ultimately comes up with the same problems of having already been implented in many games before itself (and is therefore not an innovative technology), and is rooted in observable aspects of our own real world.
Conclusion: So, how exactly was this legal despite how overly general it was (ergo possessing a lack of specificity and uniqueness to any satisfying degree), and in how it is already a common part of many other software products throughout the decades (lacking in the innovation a patent necessarily requires), and in how it is simple taking an aspect of the real world and applying it into in-game physics (a fortiori, it displays a lack of innovation in the patent, and is not obvious)?
Furthermore, how safe would it be to be able to still use such mechanics despite these patents, id est, how enforcable are these patents on developers both independent and corporate, especially in cases of international (i.e, not in Japan) cases of potential breaches to patent rights? Is it likely to inure to the benefit of Nintendo Co., Ltd., despite these apparant issues in their patents?
This also leads to another question, how exactly would this work in regards to games that have already used these mechanics before the filing of the patent? Or for ones that were in development during the release of the patent which made use of ideas patented in them?
I apologize for the long post, but this is something that deeply concerns me regarding how it effects me, and in how it could potentially stifle the medium as a whole for decades.