Stone Interactive Ventures LLC v. Electronic Arts Inc.,
United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, Waco Division
Filed: September 13, 2019
Case No. 6:19-cv-00542
Stone Interactive has filed suit against video game publisher Electronic Arts alleging patent infringement relating to video games such as Apex Legends and Anthem. There are two allegedly infringed patents in the suit, US Patent 7,593,864 (the ‘864 Patent) and US Patent 8,516,473 (the ‘473 Patent).
The ‘864 Patent is directed towards property ownership management technology in a virtual space. The complaint states that the Apex Legends video game provides “virtual properties configured for use in a computer game operable in a memory of a game server, said virtual properties existing solely in virtual form within a computer network.” The example within the video game used to exemplify this aspect of the patent is part of the core game play loop of Apex Legends.
Apex Legends is a battle royale-style video game, similar to major industry hit Fortnite. The goal for players is to be the last person standing at the end of the game while using whichever means necessary to ensure one’s survival. Notably, in Apex, when two players fight each other, upon the death of one of the two players, a loot box appears next to the slain player and their inventory may be accessed by the victor. This allows for a transfer of virtual properties in a manner which, the suit alleges, infringes Stone Interactive’s patents. There is no real world analog for these virtual items: a player may access them during a game play session of Apex Legends, but, outside of a game play session, the items are stored by the Apex Legends server.
The ‘473 Patent relates to Limited Functionality Objects. Apex Legends includes these Limited Functionality Objects in the form of in-game characters and weapons. Per Stone Interactive, Apex Legends infringes this patent when a computer renders the characters and weapons in-game. Particularly, Stone Interactive claims that Apex Legends infringes the patent when it, when running the limited functionality object (e.g., the character or weapon), allows it to be combined with an additional functionality object (e.g., a character or weapon skin) to convert it into a fully functional object (e.g., a skinned character or weapon). For instance, Stone Interactive’s argument appears to assert that the ’473 Patent is infringed when an in-game character equips a character skin.
Stone also alleges that Electronic Arts had knowledge of these patents and caused harm to Stone by infringing them, further accompanying their complaint with a general demand for equitable relief.
The Stone patents appear to be embodied in a large majority of games that utilize a loot and loot box structure and, as such, it will be interesting to see how the court responds to the alleged claims.