GamePolitics has learned that at least three more independent development studios received letters from the law firm representing Treehouse Avatar Technologies claiming that they "may be infringing" on a patent the company holds because they make online games. Earlier in the week we detailed how the law firm representing Treehouse sent a letter to Bothel, Washington-based indie developer Bad Pug Games. The studio, which operates a massively multiplayer web-based space strategy game called Starpires, received the letter on July 1.
The three other companies to receive letters from Treehouse on or around July 1 are Minions of Mirth maker Prairie Games (they also developed the iOS game Volsh, the upcoming Facebook game Dragn' Drop, and the upcoming multi-platform shooter Beyond Zero Tolerance), A Tale in the Desert developer eGenesis, and Aces High developer HiTech Creations.
The ambiguously worded letters from Westfield, New Jersey-based law firm of Lerner, David, Littenberg, Krumholz, & Menlik, LLP, warned them that they could be infringing on the 858 patent (U.S Patent 8,180,858) "Methods for Presenting Data Over a Network Based Network User Choices and Collecting Real-time Data Related to Said Choices." The letters appear to be almost identical to the letter sent to Bad Pug Games on July 1.
A copy of the letter sent to Prairie Games has been posted on GameLaw.org. eGenesis also confirmed that it received the same letter on July 1.
Randel Reiss, Director of Product Development for Prairie Games explained to GamePolitics why it might be difficult for Treehouse to argue that Minions of Mirth violates its patent:
"... we released all the source code to our 3D MMORPG into the public back in 2007. Prior to that, as far back as 2005, we published that like a lot of RPG developers, we were basing our game character building design on Wizards of the Coasts' System Reference Document (SRD) - WotC's decade-old royalty free d20 System License."
Many of the developers we have spoken to describe the language in these letters as ambiguous; they do not directly threaten any legal action and are written in a way to inform the target of Treehouse's patent (and offers options to buy a license if they feel they are infringing on it).
Treehouse also has pending litigation against Turbine Entertainment. It filed a patent infringement lawsuit against the company - now owned by Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment (Time Warner) back in October of 2012 using the same 858 patent. That case is still pending.
We will continue to follow this story as it develops. If you are a game developer who has received a legal packet or letter from a law firm representing Treehouse Avatar Technologies, please let us know so we can report on it.
On a related note, Steph Kennedy, who runs the Troll Tracker Blog, has launched a simple resource for collecting data on "patent trolls" and the companies they are going after. The site, That Patent Tool, allows registered users to add entries and search entries for trolling actions. Right now it is in its infancy stage, but Kennedy hopes that it can grow into a resource useful for fighting against the tactics of these patent outfits...