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Feature: 'The Trouble With Patents'

Are game design patents helping or hurting developers? Where do we draw the line? In this exclusive Gamasutra editorial, game designer David Sirlin discusses The Trouble With Patents, us
Are game design patents helping or hurting developers? Where do we draw the line? In this exclusive Gamasutra editorial, game designer David Sirlin discusses The Trouble With Patents, using Sega's infamous Crazy Taxi design patent as an example. In this excerpt, Sirlin illustrates what he sees as the insult, if not the danger, of the way the games industry is using patents by pointing to Sega's Crazy Taxi patent, as well as one of Namco's: "Simpsons Road Rage and Crazy Taxi are incredibly similar games, and no one is even denying that. But the concept of driving around in a city where virtual people jump out of the way of your car is not exactly what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he said that patentable inventions were to be new and useful, and you can forget about non-obvious. I also don’t think he’d be too happy that no one can make a game where you drive a car around a city with virtual people who jump out of the way…FOR TWENTY YEARS. The big picture of protecting the R&D of entrepreneurs is certainly not served by patents like ‘138. Neither is it served by Namco’s patent 5,718,632, giving it a twenty-year government-sanctioned monopoly on using mini-games during another game’s loading screen. I don’t know how else to say this, but the idea of putting a mini-game in a loading screen is “obviously obvious.” This kind of stuff is an insult to actual inventions. Somewhere along the way, patents started greatly hampering the advancement of technology, rather than cultivating it. One belief is that patents such as Sega’s ‘138 and Namco’s ‘632 are so laughable that they would never stand up in court. Well, they are laughable and I don’t see how they could stand up in court because they blatantly fail the test of “non-obvious to a person of average skill working in the field at the time.” You can now read the full Gamasutra feature on the subject, including Sirlin's ideas for reforms to the patent system (no registration required, please feel free to link to this column from external websites).

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