Business Insider (no relation) is reporting that Worlds.com CEO Thom Kidrin is intending to sue anyone who will not license their virtual worlds product through him, and since Kidrin claims they hold the patent to virtual worlds, everyone has to get a license. Since this is a legal issue I'll lay this out in a few easy to read steps:
- Thom calls up Blizzard, Linden Lab, etc...
- Thom says "Hey, I invented virtual worlds! Pay me money since you're making money off the concept."
- Blizzard and Linden Lab laugh and hang up, assuming it's a prank call.
- Thom goes to court.
How did Worlds.com wind up with the patent to the idea of a scalable virtual world with thousands of users? Kidrin has said that they invented the virtual worlds with a product for sick kids called Starbright World back in 1997. (Though apparently the concept was thought up back in 1995.)
However, let's take a look at the definition of Cyberspace. It was first used in William Gibson's 1982 story "Burning Chrome" and again used in a few of his books, with "Neuromancer" being the most popular. Gibson's definition for Cyberspace reads:
"Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts... A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data."
Now there are a few interesting parts there, in that the Gibson created a fictional representation of a world that was shared graphically with billions of legitimate operators. Sound familiar? It's exactly what WoW is: a graphical world shared by millions of legitimate operators, abstract data that is unthinkably complex, arranging lines of light in the nonspace of the mind, and teaching children mathematical concepts (ie: threat, gear statistics, etc...)
Now that's one answer to Kidrin's attempt at patent trolling.
The other, and perhaps grounded more in legal arguments, is that there is a ton of prior art available. That is going to make it hard to prove any sort of patent infringement claim. Nonetheless, we'll keep you updated on this interesting story.
I should note that when doing a bit of background research for this post I noticed that worlds.com lists AOL as one of their clients. AOL is the parent company of Weblogs, Inc., which owns and operates WoW Insider. However with that said, WoW Insider has complete editorial independence. Any relationship between AOL and worlds.com had no impact in the writing, researching, and opinions presented in this article.