Nintendo has been granted a broad stroke patent covering a “messaging service for video game systems with buddy list that displays game being played.” Patent number 7056217 was originally filed way back in 2000, a whole year before the Xbox was launched, and two years before Xbox Live became a reality, it leaves the door wide open for Nintendo to consider litigation against Microsoft and any other games vendor using IM. Certainly the Microsoft position appears to be vulnerable, although it’s doubtful that Nintendo would even attempt to close down the Xbox Live service. A much more likely, and much more lucrative, scenario would be one in which Nintendo pursue a cross licensing deal which would enable it to share Microsoft patented technology such as a games communication system which performs audio compression in real-time for example. Failing that, then a settlement isn’t out of the question, of course. Or is it? As with any patent claim, if prior art can be proven then the patent can be invalidated, and the Sega Dreamcast console certainly shared much, if not all, of the chat system functionality described in the patent.
What is more interesting than the potential for legal bickering is the potential for Nintendo gaming, especially considering that the company was also awarded a patent earlier this year for voice-to-text chat conversion using speech analysis in games. Forget the fact that the IM patent refers, and even has diagrams featuring, the Nintendo 64: it’s the ridiculously named Wii (pronounced ‘wee’) that will most likely benefit from IM within its WiiConnect 24 service. Considering the speculation surrounding the inclusion of an integrated microphone with the much vaunted Wiimote control (can console puns get any worse?) it all starts to make a lot of sense.
Let’s hope that, for once, we don’t see a patent being used to stifle rather than promote innovation. Unfortunately I suspect that this is a forlorn hope, as history suggests that the patent process is increasingly used to delay the technological advances of competitors, abusing intellectual property law into the bargain, and ultimately doing the poor schmuck consumer no good at all.