3D virtual chat app maker Worlds Inc is suing Microsoft and Minecraft for patent infringement. The patent in question is for a "System and Method for Enabling Users to Interact in a Virtual Space".
What is this Minecraft lawsuit about?
Worlds Inc describes itself as a "leading intellectual property developer" and licensor of 3D online virtual world patents. Its best-known product is Worlds Chat, a virtual 3D chat app which allows users to talk to one another within a visual online space. Within the text of the patent, Worlds Inc says its invention provides a "highly scalable architecture for a three-dimensional graphical, multi-user, interactive virtual world system". In essence, Worlds Inc is suing Minecraft because the latter allows 3D avatars to interact with one another in a virtual space.
In a press release, Worlds Inc CEO Thom Kidrin said the patent is a "fundamental building block" to the functionality and success of many 3D games which offer virtual chat spaces in which players can create avatars. Kidrin says Worlds Inc is "excited" by the popularity of those games, but that he wants to ensure Worlds Inc receives "just compensation" for the system and method the company developed that he says "helped make these types of products possible".
If you're a long-term gamer, you're probably thinking Minecraft isn't the only game that allows 3D avatars to interact with one another. You would, of course, be correct in this assumption, which is why Worlds Inc also pursued legal action against Activision Blizzard, presumably over World of Warcraft and Call of Duty. In 2015, however, Worlds Inc's patent validity was challenged by Bungie, although said patent was cleared of any claims against it on that basis in January 2020. Worlds Inc has also sued Second Life for similar reasons, and NCSoft, the creators of Guild Wars.
Why is this lawsuit happening now?
You would be forgiven for thinking Worlds Inc is essentially a patent troll - a company that effectively exists in order to enforce patents and does not actually contribute anything based on the patent. Worlds Chat is still an active service, although it's undeniably somewhat primitive in comparison to some of the games Worlds Inc has in its crosshairs. Minecraft has been around for several years, so it's unclear why Worlds Inc has chosen to pursue this particular action at this moment. Granted, its litigations were on hold from 2015 while its patent was examined, but prior to that, Worlds Inc had several years to target Minecraft and never chose to do so.
We've reached out to several of the parties involved here for comment, including Worlds Inc, Activision Blizzard, and Microsoft. We'll bring you more on this story as we get it, so stay tuned.
Update: After reaching out to Worlds, Inc about their new Minecraft Lawsuit they responded back answering all of our questions about their current and previous litigations. The complete questions and answers are listed below:
TR: How many legal actions is World's Inc involved in at this time in regards to this patent? How about other patents?
Worlds has 3 active patent litigation actions: currently against Activision, Linden Labs and Microsoft. The company is analyzing additional actions.
TR: While understanding that this patent has been effectively suspended since 2015, why was there no legal action taken against Minecraft and Mojang previously?
The stay of the Activision case in 2015 held back additional litigation filings pending the outcome at the PTAB and Federal Court of Appeals. Ultimately the outcome was favorable to Worlds and allowed the un-stay of the case against Activision and the initiation of the new cases against Linden and Microsoft.
TR: Do you intend to pursue action against every game offering 3D virtual chat?
Regarding Worlds Chat, it is the longest continuous running 3D service since 1995. At this
time we will not share possible future actions or targets. However Worlds is happy to discuss the process it goes through in determining who might be infringing, how they may be infringing and possible actions.
TR: How many licenses to their patents has World's Inc sold?
As a social experiment the company has allowed users to create their own worlds using the Worlds tool kit offered to VIP members. Over 1000 user-created worlds have been created and hosted by Worlds users on their own servers.
TR: Is World's Chat, outside of its patents, profitable for World's inc?
The company does not breakout revenue from that service, it is a social experiment to see what users create themselves as a mirror on the internet culture.
TR: Given how ubiquitous 3D online virtual play spaces are and how many lawsuits you’re pursuing, some may accuse World's Inc of being a patent troll. What would be your response to anyone suggesting this?
Worlds refutes any claim that it is an NPE (Non Practicing Entity) and/or a Patent Troll. Further undercutting the Patent Troll accusation is the fact that Worlds never acquired their patents. Rather, Worlds’ patents were developed and filed for at the USPTO by Worlds back in 1995.
If ever there was a true “David vs. Goliath” internet story, Worlds is it. Worlds has survived the full economic and legal assault of Activision over the course of eight years and is still moving its infringement suit forward.
Worlds pioneered 3D virtual reality and has been attacked for trying to protect the IP it invented which has been appropriated by titans of the gaming industry with no financial consideration. The only way a small company such as Worlds can seek financial equity is through patent litigation -- as Worlds has done.
What do you think of Worlds Inc's Minecraft lawsuit? What do you think of their responses to your questions? Let us know in the comments below!