Minecraft creator sued for patent infringement in Android game

Uniloc, a patent protection company specializing in anti-piracy technologies, is suing Mojang, developer of Minecraft, for infringing on an Android-related patent called "System and Method for preventing unauthorized access to electronic data". It's basically a system for authenticating license data. The lawsuit reads:

Mojang is directly infringing one or more claims of the ’067 patent in this judicial district and elsewhere in Texas, including at least claim 107, without the consent or authorization of Uniloc, 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, including, but not limited to, Mindcraft.

(You'd think they could at least get the game's name right.) You can see the full lawsuit over here. Notch, the beloved creator of Minecraft, is vocally against software patents. After getting handed the lawsuit, he wrote up am astute blog post linked below and tweeted: 

Ric Richardson, the founder of Australia-based Uniloc, begs to differ

It amazes me that people complain about paying a royalty for a technology that stops up to a third of a software companies sales from being lost to piracy. What are you saying? "Its all right to steal from Uniloc as long as it helps stop pirates stealing from me? ... I had to spend $40,000 back in 1992 to protect my idea. It was not frivolous for me... it was the difference between having a deposit for a house and having a patent.

Uniloc is requesting a jury trial and that Mojang pay in both previous damages and in future royalties. Hopefully Mojang can get away with simply changing the supposedly infringing lines of code. Let's just hope that these Uniloc guys don't start taking their litigations to other app developers.

Do you guys agree with Notch that software patents are obtrusive to innovation, or is there a legitimate use for them?

Source: The Word of Notch

 

Reader comments

Minecraft creator sued for patent infringement in Android game

57 Comments

I'm firmly of the belief that software is not (should not be) patentable. A few years back, Microsoft got sued because of how they read the XML in their office software. If someone can patent the simple act of reading a particular type of file, or a particular methodology of DRM, or whatever, it wont be long before its literally impossible to write software without infringing a patent. No software development means no innovation in the industry, no competition from smaller non-corporate groups, nothing good at all.

Not to mention devs shouldn't also have to be lawyers.

Absolutely ridiculous. First Bethesda sues Mojang over the name "Scrolls" and now this. Absolute greed, is all it is.

I'm looking at the patent diagrams and notice that is specifically states a "smart card" and "smart card reader" as part of the system. Minecraft for Android doesn't use such a system. If these guys get away with this, who's next? Steam? Games for Windows - LIVE? Any DRM system that uses server-side authentication? Pure greed is all this is.

If the developers implemented a similar algorithm independently then I wouldn't care if someone else had patented it in the past. If, however, they steal code from someone else, they should be stopped.

Copyright should be sufficient in many cases to handle software related disputes. Reverse-engineering and changing around the code to prevent detection of a copyright infringement is probably more work that writing your own solution from scratch.

In any case, this patent is from 1994 -- so it has 2 more years to live at most before it becomes free-for-all. The developer would have collected the better part of his royalties for 18 years, right?

There were a lot of other people named in the lawsuit including developers like Halfbrick, Gameloft, Square Enix, Laminar Research, and Electronic Arts.

You missed Notch's best tweet about this.
"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"
https://twitter.com/notch/status/226604081932812288

And judging from how he likes to pay a lot for things he enjoys(Humble Bundles, and Psychonauts 2 come to mind), I think he will hold up to his word with it too.

This guys hypocrisy kills me.

He doesn't want software patents to exist, yet he wants to stop piracy (and uses patented technology to do so).

Seriously, all his credibility goes out the window.

"and uses patented technology to do so"

So... if I get a patent on baking bread in an oven, and sue you with it, then you're not allowed to complain about the lawsuit because you're using "patented technology".

That's what you're saying here. Nobody has "stolen" anything. This is a patent on a *concept*, which is invalid under patent law. The problem is the people in our patent office don't understand software and are granting patents left and right that should *never* have existed. There has been software implementing this kind of license check for close to a decade, long before Android or this patent existed.

The only thing this guy (Uniloc) "invented" was a way to make money by applying for patents and suing people for using technology that somebody *else* thought of, but didn't feel the need to try and prevent other people from using. His comment about "protecting my idea" throws Uniloc's credibility out the window, since people who have payed attention to the technology world for a while *know* he didn't invent this concept.

Copyright law should be sufficient to prevent people copying specific code from an application and using it in their own application. Beyond that, I agree that software patents should *all* be abolished. *All* of these software patents revolve around patenting a concept, which violates patent law in an of itself.

Companies like Uniloc produce *nothing*. It's merely the new face of organized crime. They've figured out a way to use the patent system as a sledgehammer so that they can demand "protection money" from the companies that do *actually* produce something.

It needs to stop. It needs to be illegal.

If you have a patent on baking bread and someone else comes along with a business model to use your exact technique, yes you can sue the hell out of them. Your example is actually less absurd (contrary to your intention) as baking bread is a process subject to innovation and many patents do exist, protecting innovators (see patent 7745763 for an example.)

It's also worth noting that patent enforcement happens almost exclusively at the business model level; i.e. if you patented "any means of baking bread" it is only those who infringe in a commercial capacity who would be subject to litigation.

Once again, though, you've missed the point. I shouldn't be *able* to get a patent for "baking bread in an oven". That's *how* you bake bread.

There is such a thing in patent law that invalidates a patent on the ground that a patent is "obvious to anyone in the industry". There's also patent law that can invalidate a patent on the grounds of "prior art", meaning that someone else had already done it before you got the patent. This patent would be invalid under *both* of those.

And you're missing the point.

The developer is using a method to stop piracy of his product. But he is saying that people shouldn't be afforded protection for their inventions.

Do you understand what he is doing? He is being hypocritical, in one breathe he doesn't want other to have protections, then his next one he wants his innovation and software protected.

Seriously, you can't have your bread and eat it too... or something like that.

Patents do not prevent piracy nor are they supposed to. Copyright laws prevent piracy or the illegal copying of software. Patent laws are supposed to protect ideas and designs which is where Notch disagrees.

The system is broken and way out of hand. People are filing patents just to make money from the patent and aren't creating. Those who create can't without overlapping with something someone has already patented. I hope he wins.

What you and the other responder totally missed was the nature of the patent *itself* which is "a technique for software to communicate to a server as a means to validate a license in order to prevent the execution of illegally obtained copies".

Software patents are often overly broad, vague, nebulous, etc. and they do hinder innovation given that one little idea that it took 5 minutes to conjure is somehow worth many tens of thousands of dollars *if* you were the first one to think of it.

The irony is palpable though, that Minecraft's author complains software innovation "is free" regarding an issue of his *own* protection from infringement. Anything less than the deletion of the protection code (making Minecraft fully functional to use by anyone obtaining a copy) would be hypocrisy.

The Minecraft author's "own protection from infringement" is protection from *COPYRIGHT* infringement. Not any sort of patent infringement. It's a big difference. Software patents are broken. Software copyright is fine.

I can explain the difference if necessary but, as a software developer myself, I see no hypocrisy here.

+1 Good to see some people understand what is going on here. I guess it's easier to understand, though, as software developers :)

sigh. The patent (6,857,067) is not on a mechanism to protect from patent infringement. Patent infringement is what minecraft's author was accused of by Uniloc. Copyright infringement protection is what the patent in question (as well as the minecraft software) *does*.

I fail to see what I "missed"? Stealing his product and making a copy of it falls under copyright infringement while writing your own code that uses a basic concept or idea (No copied code involved) that has been patented is considered patent infringement. I don't see how anyone can call him a hypocrite for wanting to make sure his code/product isn't pirated while at the same time criticizing and fighting a patent which he feels shouldn't exist?

You missed the fact that this patent is FOR A COPYRIGHT PROTECTION MECHANISM. You said in your first post "Patents do not prevent piracy nor are they supposed to." Patents in general, yes, are totally different from copyright. This patent, however is specifically FOR protecting copyright because that is WHAT WAS PATENTED.

Tricky difference apparently, judging by all the confused posts here. But an important one, nonetheless.

This will be my last post on the subject:

Do you honestly think I missed what the patent is about in this conversation? I assure you I didn't. The disconnect we seem to be having is I don't find it hypocritical for someone to think this patent should not be valid while still wanting to copyright their product/code. Just because he doesn't believe they should be awarded a patent that has to do with a "System and Method for preventing unauthorized access to electronic data", doesn't mean he is a hypocrite for wanting to prevent people from accessing his application or electronic data without authorization.

His problem is the fact they were able to patent such a thing, not the thing itself. I'm going to patent a "Method in which someone is able to breath air through their lungs". You need to pay me a royalty each time you inhale. If you have a problem with that, you would be a hypocrite for wanting to breath.

You seem intelligent enough so I find it hard to believe that you don't see the difference. I instead believe you are trying to "stick to your guns" from your original posts.

Copyright laws does not stop you to download copyright things and when governments try to do something in this zone everyone goes riot in name of freedom (look SOPA, ACTA).... so what else companies left to do? DRM, which is software solution that as other software solutions can be patented

That's not hypocrisy. Hating on software patents in general has nothing to do with software piracy. Software piracy is about copyrights. Patents are different. It's painfully obvious to any software developer that the patent system doesn't work with software. I don't think any software developer would want to get rid of software copyrights through.

So don't worry, his credibility still stands.

Sure, a software developer (who is not a patent holder) would love a world where software patents didn't exist but copyright did; he wouldn't have any issue with writing any kind of software he wanted, and could turn around and sell it. But give that software developer a patent on their work (if their idea was novel, unique, etc.) and all of a sudden they will sing a different sort of tune. Patents and copyrights are two completely different legal entities but they really do a very very similar service. It just so happens that patents are easier to "abuse" by way of misguided issuance, litigation, etc. However, one cannot simply say "i love copyright but not patents" without a certain air of hypocrisy given that they both (potentially) protect the same sort of intellectual property from the same sort of exploitation.

Actually, they don't protect from the same sort of exploitation. If I sat down and decided to write my own piece of software that was an exact mirror of Microsoft Office, and I did it solely by writing my own code the mimiced what I could observe office doing, that should be completely legal, so long as I'm not using any "pieces" of actual code from Office to write my software.

It's called reverse engineering and it happens everyday, in every sector of the economy. In fact, the law surrounding reverse engineering says that you can take a competitor's product, reverse engineer it, and making an identical product so long as you "do not use any actual parts from the original product". Laws like this *have* to be in place or, by granting someone a patent, you're granting them a legal monopoly.

But all this is neither here nor there since, as has been stated multiple times, this guy (Uniloc) didn't invent *anything*. The technology was around long before he got this patent, and it is therefore completely invalid. Period.

You are correct that your "own work" (if it is reverse engineered, it needs to be in a "clean room" environment) is subject to the protection that copyright law affirms. However, patents are there to specifically offer protection that goes beyond the ability to protect a specific work from duplication, given that some "inventions" are more notable for their general purpose than for their exact appearance (say, for a blood pressure drug or a particularly strong form of software encryption). Software patents are certainly a controversial subject given their nebulous nature, but until the law is changed (or in this specific case until that patent is thrown out due to prior art,) that is how the patent system works and that is the protection that Uniloc is guaranteed by law.

Like it or not, it's the truth.

Why are you so sure he didn't invent anything? Before 1992 when Richardson (I assume that is who you are talking about) released his technology, there was no try-before-you-buy software. After 1992, on most computer magazine covers, there was a CD with some software (Norton Utilities was a common example) that you could try out and then convert into a full version after purchase. If you were around then, you'd be well aware of this. If he didn't invent the remote authentication technology that made this possible, who did and when?

Not having a copy of Minecraft for Android I can't be 100% sure on this, but most Android apps are run through Proguard (Google basically tells you to do this in their docs) so how did they get the code that is supposedly infringing? I would think if the reverse engineered obfuscated code to get the infringing lines out they are in trouble (also guessing that Minecraft has a copyright statement in its code).

You've misunderstood.

Nobody is claiming the Mojahng (or Google) *copied* code from someone else. This guy is saying he "invented" the *idea* of having Android apps connect to a server and check a license. It's another *concept* patent that should never have been issued, especially since this guy totally *didn't* come up with the idea.

It's BS. And it's stupid. And I would *love* to see the people pulling this crap go to prison for defrauding the US patent system.

My mind was elsewhere when I posted that. We went through crap like that where I work. In the end, it was cheaper/easier to pay them off for us, bu for a single dev it would be harder. And the US patent system is totally broken. What I want to know is, how to they know 100% that Minecraft uses that system? Also, if its the standard Google one (that I used in one app), shouldn't Google be responsible for it?

It would be different if the company suing was actually using the patent in question, but they're just a patent troll.

Honestly I think any developer who charges for their apps needs to be accountable for patent infringements. If the software was freely distributed I would think otherwise, but I could understand why this guy is upset: the Minecraft developer is allegedly using someone else's work and making money off of it. Don't you think that's kinda rough? It's not like using the code is forbidden: he just needed to pay royalties. This is nothing like the Apple cases; this isn't about product rivalry: it's about being paid for your work. For such a small company I doubt the royalties would've even been that much in comparison to the profits from app sales.

Problem is, you don't understand what's going on here:

You say "It's not like using the code is forbidden" but what code? The code that Mojahng wrote themselves? Because they did. They didn't *copy* anything. The wrote the code they're using, and no one is contesting that.

This guy is claiming he "invented" the *concept* of having an Android app communicate with a license server. It's a patent that never should have existing, because it doesn't patent a product. It's a patent on an idea. And it's an idea that this guy (Uniloc) didn't event in the first place. This server license check model has been around for over a decade.

This guy is a patent troll. The only thing he's invented is a legal way to force companies to pay "protection money".

EXACTLY!!

The first well put argument in here, there is no way in hell you should be able to get a patent on license authentication which like you say has been around for over a decade, and claiming a new patent purely because it happens to be on a different device.

That's like claiming me trying to file a patent on the wheel, but only when attached a 5 wheel vehicle as no one ever came up with that idea before, only on 2,3,4 and 18 wheelers! Ridiculous, I think software patents do occasionally have a place (for exceptionally innovative and crazy assed ideas), but NOT for obvious things like swipe scrolling and certainly not for things that already exist but in a marginally different context.

The people granting these patents should all be fired, it's getting ridiculous now.

"This server license check model has been around for over a decade"

Ahem, 6,857,067 was filed in 2001.

And as a disclaimer I am not associated with this case in any way shape or form, but it is pretty annoying to see so many mischaracterizations about one relatively simple thing.

It's been around for much longer than that. Hell, I'm pretty sure that they decided to patent this "idea" shortly after Windows XP came out with their Activation system.

"Ahem", nothing. I didn't research to see when this patent was applied for, because that really isn't the point. And I can point you to PC applications that were using this model in 1999. Again, not the point.

What we're all saying is that the patent system is broken. I think the software copyright system should *definitely* stay in place. And it should continue to prevent people from copying other people's work, but all the patents on vague concepts, owned by companies that produce nothing but legal fees is absurd.

Besides, how did this guy apply for a patent involving "license checks from an Android cell phone or tablet" 4 years before Android existed?

Richardson invented the Uniloc system in 1992 and it *was* unique at the time. Those "PC applications that were using this model in 1999" were most likely using Uniloc technology because most of those types of systems were at that time. The patent is not specifically related to Android, it's that Mojang is using a similar protection system in its Android apps.

Mindcraft.

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Actual, physical coding should be patentable. Actual, physical appearances should be patentable. I mean, I shouldn't be able to make money by lifting code that you wrote, placing it in my app, and selling it as my own. Or by making my tablet look identical to yours so people will purchase it thinking it's your product.

Concepts, however, shouldn't be patentable. Apple had the idea to swipe left to right on an iPhone to unlock it. That's a concept. Others have used similar methods - but coded them on their own. No problem with that. However, if I lifted Apple's coding word-for-word and didn't even bother to change the appearance? That should be a violation.

Most of the stupid lawsuits out there right now seem to be based on concepts and should be thrown out of court. Let the litigants prove that the actual coding or appearances were stolen and I'm fine with damages, but suing based on similarities? Give me a break.

I have to agree mainly. Especially with the current Samsung / Apple rubbish. The devices are clearly different, and the OS is now very different (but obviously based on the same principles).

However when the first galaxy came out (about 3-4 years ago?) I was shocked at how similar it was. Almost an identical product design, and the OS was shockingly ripped off, down to the EXACT same number, size and spacing of icons on the home screen, even showing the same dock at at the bottom. Sure that's was hardly an in-depth design, but to rip a product that blatantly they SHOULD have been sued up the a-hole. That was one of the most blatant copyright infringements I've ever seen in the software world. I think now that they have evolved their own design and Google have created their own OS it's too late, as the similarities just aren't close enough anymore (as the recent ruling forcing apple to apologise points out).

Looks like Apple realise they should have got at them earlier and are now just going for whatever scraps they can to try and get a piece of there rapidly growing market share.

I know what you're talking about, but you're mixing up Patents and Copyrights. Patents are for ideas, and Copyrights are for works, things actually created. You can't patent a block of code, only copyright it.

Wow so this guy has a patent on an authentication method which has existed since the dawn of time in client server environments. This is why concept patents, particularly in software, should NEVER exist.

Actually he did invent that method in 1992. It didn't exist before then. It's not exactly the dawn of time but CDs (and 3.5" floppy discs!) were the most common method of distributing software back then as home internet was very rare. In fact, 28.8K modems hadn't even been released then. Whatever you think about patents, the fact is this guy did come up with a unique system at the right time.

My only issue with this discussion is that you used "am" instead of "an" immediately after mocking someone else for typing something incorrectly.

Until us users stand up and demand patent reform, it is going to continue to be a business model for companies to sue other companies for patent infringement. Why innovate to make money when you can sue?

Ugh so many misinformed people. Ok, quick crash course :

software patents are problematic because software isn't a machine. Software is an expression of a mathematical ruleset, and math is, by definition unpatentable.

There is also the matter of complexity. A software program of moderate size can easily infringe on dozens or even hundreds of patents, none of which the average author of such software is likely to be aware of. As notch said, software development is so inexpensive that the relative amount of work involved in implementing one "patentable" technique is near zero. If you enforced licensing of every patent that covers any part of a moderately complex piece of software, the resulting fees would be sufficient to bankrupt nations!

I agree that there is a place for some sort of control over real innovation, so as to reward the hard work of our most creative and insightful innovators. But, I think that bar should be extremely high, and I think that patents are the wrong tool.

Seriously? You're asking if it's ok for devs to pirate code that's designed to stop people from pirating their code? Are you stoned?

Hi Folks, i just stumbled upon this post while researching for an article on reverse piracy, it seems there is almost next to nothing exactly on this topic anywhere on the internet. can anyone please refer me to any thing concrete related to reverse piracy.
Thanks
Jason