Microsoft Sued For Patent Infringement Over Video Game’s Multiplayer Mode

On September 25, Worlds Inc. filed a complaint against Microsoft Corporation in the Western District of Texas for patent infringement over their video game Minecraft’s multiplayer mode functionality. Microsoft acquired Minecraft from Mojang, its developer, in 2014. 

The patent-in-suit is U.S. Patent No. 8,082,501 (the ’501 patent), entitled “System and Method for Enabling Users to Interact in a Virtual Space.” According to the complaint, the ’501 patent discusses “methods used for improving network communications and managing client processing burdens in a multi-client/server architecture used in a three-dimensional, computer-generated, graphical, multi-user, interactive virtual world systems such as those found in multiplayer gaming.” For example, “the client process can be used to customize the display of the virtual world to the user, and that display may include avatars representing other users who are ‘near’ the user within the virtual world. The virtual world can be updated to reflect the motion or rotation of various users’ avatars, avatar position information is transmitted from each user’s client process to a centralized ‘server process,’ which in turn transmits position updates back to the client processes.” Specifically, the patent describes a crowd control function that can generate a display from an avatar’s point of view. 

The plaintiff alleged that Microsoft and other related entities have “made, used, sold, offered for sale, and/or imported in the United States,” products that infringe the ’501 patent. According to Worlds, Microsoft infringed at least claims 1, 2, 5, and 10 of the ’501 patent, through, for example, “the Minecraft Java Edition product and associated software, the official Minecraft Realms subscription-based servers and their associated server software, and the official Minecraft server software used for establishing a private Minecraft server.” 

As stated in the complaint, Minecraft has a multiplayer mode, where “multiple independent users can interact in the same Minecraft virtual world,” users need “a Minecraft server that is able to host the multiple users.” The plaintiff claimed that Microsoft “benefitted from users who used their Microsoft Minecraft accounts and played Minecraft in a multiplayer mode, which provides a server/client architecture with filtering/crowd control features for multiplayer use,” through various Minecraft servers and software, as described in the patent. 

Moreover, according to the plaintiff, Microsoft controlled the manner and timing of the user’s activities through these functions and displays. Worlds averred that Microsoft infringed its patent by allowing various users to interact with one another on Minecraft with customizable avatars through communicating with a server, managing users in a virtual space. Specifically, Microsoft is able to determine the position and display of the various avatars in relation to one another, which Microsoft reportedly does partially through crowd control functionality. 

Furthermore, the plaintiff stated that Microsoft is able to determine the orientation of the avatars and can receive avatar orientation from a subset of avatars through some filtering and can thus filter the avatars to display, for example by distance. The plaintiff asserted that these methods are described in the patent-in suit. As a result, Worlds proffered that Microsoft infringed its patent by infringing the patented method for the described user activity and display.

The plaintiff, represented by Etheridge Law Group, PLLC and Davidson Berquist Jackson & Gowdey, LLP, has sought adjudgment that Microsoft has infringed the patent in suit, an award for damages, and an award for costs and fees.