They say in patents the name of the game is the claims. So, can you guess which game this claim likely belongs to?

A game controlling method comprising:

  • based on input to a controller, digging in a terrain object disposed in a virtual space,
  • placing an object representing a flowable fluid in a dug portion of the terrain object,
  • determining a shape of an area formed by the dug portion,
  • controlling the object to flow based on determining that the shape of the area is elongated and controlling the object to not flow based on determining that the shape of the area is not elongated; and
  • processing in accordance with whether the object is controlled to flow or not flow.

After reading the claim, if you’re like me, and thinking about how well Microsoft (Redmond, Washington) has done with its recently acquired IP in Minecraft, you’d be led astray. Instead, Nintendo (Kyoto, Japan) is responsible for pioneering this new gaming method.

U.S. Patent No. 11,219,830, awarded last Tuesday, appears to form part of a long portion of Nintendo’s patent portfolio that discusses digging in terrain, fishing in ponds, and manipulating your in-game human-like character to interact with other non-playable characters (NPCs), who may or may not be animals. The Figures of these patents make it clear this is a patent primarily directed toward protecting its right in its first-party title, Animal Crossing. Across their entire portfolio, Nintendo describes what aspects make Animal Crossing, well… Animal Crossing.

You ought to think twice before you think about encroaching on Nintendo’s IP. When it comes to Animal Crossing, pandemic era Nintendo is armed to the teeth. And it’s not just armed with respect to Animal Crossing: Nintendo has reportedly filed patents on almost every aspect of how Link (Legend of Zelda) moves.

My fiancée asked me: “Didn’t that game come out over a year ago? Why are they only getting a patent now?” And it’s true. The latest iteration of Animal Crossing came out for the Nintendo Switch in March of 2020.

The short of it is that Nintendo’s patents will allow Nintendo to sell Animal Crossing with less risk that others will take shortcuts to mimic Nintendo’s success. In rapidly changing industries like the video-game industry, the acquisition of patents is important in keeping competitors at bay with respect to both yesterday’s products and tomorrow’s ideas. The video-game industry is also somewhat cyclical. Patents in this and other cyclical industries can remain idle for approximately ten years before products they cover become popular again and their financial potential is fully realized.

The share of patents in the United States belonging to companies in rapidly changing and cyclical industries is not quite where it should be. These companies have large economic outputs and contribute greatly to the overall innovation in America. Yet, these companies remain shy about pursuing patents. However, the importance of patents in these industries is not any less. In fact, where your competitors are shy to acquire patents, the decision to acquire patents can really set you apart for years to come.