Patent troll targets Minecraft

Famous patent troll Uniloc is suing the creators of popular indie title Minecraft (PDF), which it claims infringes a patent it holds on copy protection software.

But it might need to improve its own game, as the filing misspells its target as "Mindcraft", and developer Markus "Notch" Persson has already vowed not to give in.

"Step 1: Wake up. Step 2: Check email. Step 3: See we're being sued for patent infringement. Step 4: Smile," Notch wrote at Twitter. "Unfortunately for them, they're suing us over a software patent. If needed, I will throw piles of money at making sure they don't get a cent."

Filed in 2001 and awarded in 2005, Uniloc's patent describes a system for "preventing unauthorized access to electronic data" which involves communication between a portable device and a license registration authority. Uniloc claims that this patent gives it rights to software that verifies licensing on the Android operating system.

Writes Uniloc: "Mojang is directly infringing one or more claims of the ’067 patent in this judicial district ... by or through making, using, offering for sale, selling and/or importing Android based applications for use on cellular phones and/or tablet devices that require communication with a server to perform a license check to prevent the unauthorized use of said application, including, but not limited to, Mindcraft."

Notch, however, said that Minecraft does not perform license checks in the manner described by the patent--then took a jab at the whole idea of patented software, for good measure: "Software patents are plain evil. Innovation within software is basically free, and it's growing incredibly rapid. Patents only slow it down."

Based in Luxembourg, Uniloc now markets itself as an intellectual property "incubation lab" specializing in computer security. It filed the lawsuit against Sweden's Mojang in Tyler, Texas, a venue famous for favoring plaintiffs in patent infringement cases. Uniloc's past targets include Microsoft, but it recently turned its attention to smaller beer, such as stock photography sites.

Demanding royalties, damages and interest, Uniloc claims to have extracted settlements from about a third of the companies it targets.



  1. Notch has become something of a saint for certain, very vocal portions of the internet; I wonder if this firm has any idea what it is getting into, or if they have just want to get in on the “bear love” action too. 

    1. If they wanted publicity, they’re getting it. They might not want it, however.

      When Notch says he is willing to sink a huge amount of money to make sure you get nothing, he means it, and he has the bank account to back his words up. Mojang is a small but very rich company — and I’m certain that’s why these scum lawyered up.

    1. Worse. He has an Ender Dragon which he plans on riding bareback to court. Just to show how awesome he is.

        1. just because the word has a different modern meaning (used primarily in male homosexual groups) doesn’t change it’s original meaning of riding an animal without the use of a saddle.

  2. mmmh. Is it just me? I quite don’t get it. A patent on doing authentication with a mobile computer, maybe running android as an OS, which involves “a licensing server” to prevent unauthorized use of a software? Like pealing a banana before you eat it? Or using a shower to, ahm, shower? Is there nothing in the us what does prevent patenting common an simple methods?
    No party involved is a citizen of the usofa. Thats the second point I am unable to get. How can a luxembourgoise enterprise file a lawsuit against a swedish software developer in Texas? In europe there is nothing like software patents.

    1. Technically, there are no software patents but if the software is somehow tied to a physical device, that’s a different matter. The original idea was that e.g. the firmware that steers a patented device would be considered part of that device. In fact they sometimes consider the computer that software is running on as a “device”  and there you go. It’s more complicated than that, but that’s the direction.

      Also: If they have a patent on using a license server, it doesn’t mean it covers all license servers in the world. That’s just the headline. Somewhere in the small print is the actual content of the patent, which is probably some very specific way for mobile devices to access and communicate with a license server using a specific type of protocol over a specific connection. Or somesuch. We don’t know, and it’ll take an expert in both law and technology to actually figure out what is truly covered here. I bet even the guy who granted the patent doesn’t really understand what this is about.  And that’s where the real problem is. Software patents (and any patents without a certain amount of proper meat in them) are just invisible walls to the rest of the world. You don’t need steal an invention to infringe, you just accidentally do something quite normal that someone else thought about before you, and now you need a lawyer with a CS degree. This can’t be good.

      1. This is more the european patent model which looks for a device that an invention is tied to.  In the U.S. we can have method and business method patents that are not tied to any sort of physical device, as long as the invention itself embodies the other prerequisites for patentability (utility, enablement, novelty, non-obviousness, etc.).  

        The SCOTUS held in Bilski, that the “machine or transformation test” for patentable subject matter, which is usually satisfied by showing the invention is tied to some physical device, is not the only test to determine whether an invention meets subject matter requirements under the Patent Act.  They, of course, neglected to mention what other tests might be applicable.

        In terms of needing more lawyers who are technology experts, I agree!!  And, for my owns sake, I hope employers feel that way, too ;D.

    2.  You can literally patent anything in the United States, simply by tacking the words “…on a computer.” to the end of its description.  Everything is new again!

      1. Sorry, these days you have to add “on a mobile computer” all the ones for just computers are taken.

        1. Or “limited computing device” to make it sounds very specific,  while being actually broader since any type of computer fits the description.

    3. “Is there nothing in the us what does prevent patenting common an simple methods?”

      Yes.  There is.  It’s called “the court system.”  The US patent system was never meant to be adjudicated by the patent office.

      “How can a luxembourgoise enterprise file a lawsuit”

      Have you tried Googling it?  It’s really not hard to find out about the Berne Conventions.

      1. I googled it. And I cannot find my question answered. Yes, there is a kind of international treaty about the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. No – I cannot find any clue about the right of a plaintiff to put someone under a jurisdiction of his or her choice. From an european view the usofa legal system is something but not anything that guarantees equal positions for anyone. Its kind of an capitalistic-aristocratic system which only serves people who can afford it.
        Laws in europe and scandinavia have a different approach, though also far away from equality. I don’t know about the luexembourgoise system. 
        Why does one have the right to press some other to accept threats with filing the law-suit in a nation where defending your rights makes you poor? (i you loose or win)? If you file an international law-suit the court should take place either in plaintiffs or defendants jurisdiction system, not something the defendant may choose. 

      2. >>”Is there nothing in the us what does prevent patenting common an simple methods?”

        > Yes.  There is.  It’s called “the court system.”  The US patent system was never meant to be adjudicated by the patent office.

        IANAL, but my understanding is that the court system is not enough. Even when one’s patent is ruled invalid by the court in a case, it does not prevent the patent owner to sue others over the same patent. They will eventually loose, but the defendants will still have to pay for the lawsuits. And pay for a second lawsuit if they want to get some money back from the patent troll. And again, this won’t prevent the troll to continue gaming the system and try to get money from companies which are afraid of a lawsuits or can just not afford it.

        1.  “They will eventually lo[o]se, but the defendants will still have to pay for the lawsuits.”

          This is entirely up to the judge. 

          If the suit is dismissed with prejudice – that is, if the judge says “you should have known better, you’re being a dick,” the plaintiff pays, and sometimes pays damages too (typically trebled.)  If the suit is dismissed without prejudice (that is, if the judge says “this was reasonable but incorrect,”) then what happens varies by state, and is often left entirely up to the judge.

          It is very uncommon that an innocent person has to pay to defend themselves against commercial claims of intent.

          “this won’t prevent the troll to continue gaming the system”

          Generally, when a patent is ruled against with prejudice, there is a serious risk that the judge will also choose to invalidate the patent itself, thereby not only negating that party’s ability to go to new action, but also invalidating old claims held.  Being an actual troll very often carries the risk of serious and permanent loss of already held claims.  It’s just that the public media knows that the masses will come running when someone rings the patent troll dinner bell, so everyone and everything is a patent troll now.

          (Granted, in this specific case, the label fits, but it usually doesn’t, kind of like when people talk about model view controller or startups or agile or lean.)

          There’s also a real problem with you suggesting that this is a form of gaming the system.  It isn’t.  You just don’t understand the system.  Pursuing people for the inappropriate pilfering of held intellectual property is the purpose of the system; making inappropriately strong claims isn’t “gaming” in any meaningful sense.

          They’re just bullies taking advantage of the general public’s confusion about what patents are and how they work.

          1. If the suit is dismissed without prejudice (that is, if the judge says “this was reasonable but incorrect,”) then what happens varies by state, and is often left entirely up to the judge.

            Patents are Federal law. Lawsuits under Federal patent law are brought in Federal courts. “What happens” is determined by Federal procedure, and has nothing to do with state law or state procedure. I’m afraid you simply do not know what you are talking about.

            The number of times that a patent lawsuit is dismissed with prejudice is vanishingly small. The overwhelmingly large majority of cases that go to trial end up with each side paying their own costs.

          2. Yup.. the usual practice of a patent troll is to sue, but offering “licensing” terms low enough that it’s clearly better to make a deal than to fight. Because, when it does get to court, if the patent is overturned, they lose all past and any potential future licenses. 

            And they get away with this stuff all the time. So if Notch is really going to fight this, he’s very much the hero of the story.

            The other thing is that patents are often misunderstood, but even the system is a broken on several levels. First thing is that a patent covers not an idea, but a very specific implementation of an idea. If your licensing server is done a little differently than the one claimed by the patent, that patent simply doesn’t apply. One reason for the confusion is the construct of the patent. When filed, there’s a description of the invention, and there’s a set of claims. The PTO judges the patent entirely on the description of the invention, checking that the claims are supported by the main body of the patent. Once granted, patent lawyers sue based on the claims, which are of course written to sound like they cover everything, but in reality, they’re only as good as the actual invention. 

            It’s worse with most software patents… one reason they really shouldn’t exist. If I patent a machine, I need to submit very accurate mechanical drawings, or I might not have a valid patent. If I patent a circuit, I must include a schematic of that circuit. But in the USA anyway, software patents no longer require disclosure of the source code. So you don’t really know the preferred embodiment of the invention, but something intentionally made more general. Most of these should be tossed out just on that basis. 

      3. It’s really not hard to find out about the Berne Conventions.

        Indeed not, and when you do, you find out that it is about copyright, not patents.

    4. I think they’ll lose due to prior art. A company named AppForge used a similar mechanism for their system to run VB apps on handheld devices years ago. I also don’t think they were the first ones to do it.

  3. Did you know that there actually is a Mindcraft? And if you Google  the single name Mindcraft you will be presented with results for Minecraft instead? You have to specifically tell Google to show results for Mindcraft.

    I am wondering if its possible that the copyright troll in this case was actually searching Mindcraft and simply accepted Google’s results.

  4. Gosh, that patent is such a brilliant idea that you could buy products that did that exact same thing back in, oh, the 1980s at the latest. Or, as someone might say, “prior art.”

    I look forward to the US PTO issuing a patent on the novel concept of a “file system” sometime during 2015.

    1. And you get to spend $50,000 proving it because the patent system is broken. And you’ll likely lose, since the case will be filed in an area of uneducated, illiterate white trash that has a history of ruling for plaintiffs.

      1. You really think a legal defense (or settling with Uniloc) is going to cost only $50K.  The bare minimum this is going to cost is $100-200k, much more if it actually goes to trial.

        1.  Nonsense.  It cost me less than $5,000.

          Signed, someone who has actually done this

      2. Goes without saying the defendant doesn’t have a jury of his software “peers”. Having being a juror before let’s just say they don’t want anyone that can tell an iPad from a Galaxy Tab or a smartphone from their own asshole.

      3. “And you get to spend $50,000 proving it”

        It does not cost $50,000 to invalidate a bad patent.

        “because the patent system is broken.”

        No, it isn’t.  Maybe learn how it works before reciting this Reddit-ism.

        “filed in an area of uneducated, illiterate white trash”

        The Texas district in question is urban, highly educated, and skin color diverse, actually.

        Please stop spewing falsehoods.

        1. It does not cost $50,000 to invalidate a bad patent.

          True. It can often cost several times that.

          The Texas district in question is urban, highly educated, and skin color diverse, actually.

          This explains why patent trolls are so eager to file there; they are doing their part for diversity.

      4. I could be wrong, but if you have strong proof of prior art then it doesn’t have to be left up to the jury, the judge could dismiss the suit as without merit.

    2.  “I look forward to the US PTO issuing a patent on the novel concept”

      It is not the patent office’s job to filter exclusively.  You might as well complain that the copyright office isn’t looking for plagiarism, or that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ought to be doing whatever about gas prices.

      Did you really want intellectual property decisions being made outside the courts, where there’s no overview, no appeal, and where the decision isn’t made by your peers?

      Of course the patent system issued the patent.  The application was valid and there wasn’t an obvious conflict.  (No, that doesn’t mean “obvious to a neckbeard,” Admiral Couchstar.)

      1. I admire your bravery in defending a system that is sufficiently broken on its face we have quite respected jurists such as Richard Posner pointing this out.

  5. Infringing “some of the patent claims” is not how it works. A system has to infringe “all” claims exactly how described. Even though patents are idiotic, they’re not *that* retarded (yet) that you can just write down a laundry list of hundreds of things and then pick any of them to mean somebody infringed.

    1. What you said is what is needed to win a claim.  The problem is that you can still claim infringement even if you won’t win.  Then the defendant still has to pay the cost of defending themselves which could be too much for a small business.  It can be easier and cheaper to just cave in.  Sort of like paying protection money vs fighting the crooks.

      1. Yeah, the system is broken all around, but at least it does have that tiny bit of sanity that all claims have to apply so people can’t just order up a “cover it all” patent.

  6. Step 1: Find something people love.
    Step 2: Attempt to ruin it for money.
    Step 3: Evil glee.

    Rot in hell, you fuckers.

  7. The amount of money Notch throws down every Humble indie bundle, I think he can afford to fight this. I don’t think these guys realise what they’re up against at all…

      1. I don’t pretend to understand what I read but it looks like the cheapest fee for submission of prior art, if submitted within a month of the patent being granted, is $65. So I guess that’s one reason why crowd-sourcing objections to the patent system has never taken off. 

    1.  Don’t get your hopes too high. Notch talked big about Bethesda’s “Scrolls” trademark suit, and ended up settling. On the other hand, his only goal for that fight was for Mojang to have the right to use “scrolls” for its card game. This one seems a bit more personal.

      1.  Or even “the stocks”, if you’re referring to the similar punishment device and not the jail.

      1. Right before they get sucked into a portal to the Nether where the friendly weeping ghasts will cheerfully throw fireballs of doom at them all to the sounds of babies of the damned screaming.

      2. Oh yes, those people will be so sorry.  Who won’t be sorry? The fucking lawyers which will make out like bandits on both sides.  Patent trolls exist to make money for lawyers who get paid either way.

        1. That is true.. and in addition, this is just one patent and one target. If anyone cared to read the article, they actually are proud of a 30% success rate. They happily target companies who make things and hope for a settlement or favorable judgement. If they spend $200,000 on each claim, and make an average of $1 million of of each one they win, then they still make $400,000 profit (after paying lawyers) for every three claims. Then, when they win one, they can go after 10 more companies for the same claim and have a much higher success rate which means it becomes cost effective to go after companies where they’ll win only $500,000 leaving a $400,000 profit for each one with a near 100% success rate.

          1. “If anyone cared to read the article, they actually are proud of a 30% success rate.”

            I wonder if the patent trolls have to pay the victims court costs and expenses IF the troll looses?  If not, and I doubt that they do,  then the laws should be changed so that they must.    That should about level out that extortion racket and put the bogus claims out of business.

  8. you know what we need is an international group of engineers, you know people versed in the art, prepared to go into court and say “you know that is so obvious, any one faced with the same problem would have thought of it”

    The thing is you’re not supposed to be able to patent obvious stuff – things you patent are supposed to be a bit better, smarter and above the ordinary and our patent system, which is supposed to help protect genuinely unique invention is being devalued by these bozos who patent tiny changes rather than grand ideas. I think we need to fight back by forcing the obvious test to the fore, making it hard to go after people for simply practising their day to day tradecraft

  9. I have an idea. I am going to Indigogo a patent filing on the use for a ‘for’ loop. Naw, nobodies ever used a for loop before, trust me, I invented it just now. Then I’m gonna fuckin’ troll the hell out of everyone – every patent aggressor, at least. But not seek royalties, only injunctions. Make them bleed.

    Who’s with me?

    1. This weapon must only be used for good my friend. You will need to be observed and followed with instruments of destruction poised lest ye give into temptation.

      1. OK, forget the for loop.

        I’m gonna patent shoes. I just invented them, foot covering to keep the feet warm and protected.

        And I’m going to get an injunction to keep all these douchebags from wearing them.

        They won’t let you walk in a courtroom barefoot, right?


  10. I’m going to patent the idea of filing a patent for something bleeding obvious, and then suing people to make money.  And then sue this lot for being in breach of my patent.

  11. Software patents aren’t evil, just the stupid ones.  I mean look at Adobe.  Photoshop uses some pretty amazing algorithms to do some pretty amazing things.  Should this not be patentable?  What about someone who events a radically new kind of database? Or a radically new kind of operating system?  Why shouldn’t this be covered by a patent?

    The point is dumb things like “swipe to unlock” or this licensing bullshit.  It’s a patent on something which is not an interesting change.  It’s like patenting putting the jelly on the sandwich first because its easier to lick the knife clean to use on the peanut butter.  It’s just too mundane to be worthy of protection.  

    1.  Most of those amazing Photoshop algorithms were first documented in independent research papers, then later implemented in Photoshop. (e.g., content-aware fill)

    2. An amazing number of process and design improvements are obvious… AFTER someone figured out how to do them.

  12. How would they defend the idea that Mojang does business in East Texas? Their a Swedish company selling software from Sweden, and the filing notes that.

    1. I’m sure the argument will be that people in Dallas and other parts of E. Texas have bought Minecraft over the net, therefore they do business there.

    2. If you sell to someone in east texas, the transaction is usually held to be in east texas, if memory serves me right.

  13. It would be interesting to see who has actually paid for the use of this patent. If the Novel, Sun and Microsoft authentication servers have not had to pay then I don’t see why Minecraft should have to.

  14. I’m no lawyer, obviously, but why is a Luxembourg  company suing a Swedish company in an american court? Don’t they have courts of their own in Europe?

    1. It’s a US patent, so European court has no jurisdiction – even if your company is European (IANAL). Though on the other hand, Bethesda filed in Sweden, but maybe that’s because they held the Elder Scrolls trademark in Sweden as well as US.

  15. First, the patent is for a smart card plugged into a card reader, if I understand the filing correctly.

    Secondly, flexlm got there 13 years earlier.

    Obvious troll is trolling.

  16. Scum of the earth. What they do is no better than muggers and common theives. In fact it’s worse, they aren’t doing it out of desperation or to survive. They’re doing it out of greed and jealousy. This patent should not exist, hopefully this time they have targeted the wrong nerd to bully. Notch will keep this as public as he can and everyone will know what scum these people are, maybe even get the attention of some people in charge who can see how unlawful this patent is. It’s like patenting the use of flour in a cake and then suing all the local bakeries you can find.
    Them being counter sued for everything they own would be too good for them.

  17. Wait what?!?!?!!? Company inLuxembourg suing a company in Sweden in Texas?!?!?!?!?!?! WTF?!?! When did Texas become an international court? Why not in Geneva?

    1. Because all the cool patent trolls file cases in the courts where overwhelmingly the result is a win for the troll…
      One troll bought a cow there once to establish ties to the state.
      One troll sued a defunct company and 12 mega corps, because the defunct company was in the jurisdiction.
      The court there seems to have a few thumbs on the scale, why would you not file there if you could find anyway to do so?

    2.  Two words : American Rule.

      In Geneva, and just about everywhere else except the USA, Uniloc could end up paying Notch’s attorney fees if they lose the case. As it works now, the US civil system makes it easier to intimidate someone into a settlement, even with frivolous claims. There are variations on the state level, but for the most part they are one-sided: only the defendant may end up paying the plaintiff’s fees, not the other way around.

  18. Hah, reading the link if they stop doing business in the district/Texas the court can’t touch them lol. Sorry but selling/distributing/advertising there is how they can sue them.

    Just put a disclaimer that says products not for sale or use in Texas. It’s just like the Trader Joes that kept getting robbing that was next to the freeway – cut your losses and stop doing business there.

  19. I don’t think “small beer” is the right phrase to describe the stock photography sites. Are they “trivial or unimportant” (as defined by my dictionary)? Generally the phrase “small beer” describes something that’s worthless in comparison to something else: “Jim won a bronze medal in the 2000 Olympics but that was small beer compared to the two golds he won in subsequent events.”

    Something like “small fry” is perhaps what you were thinking of.

  20. Looks like a BS claim- all of the claims (not the summary, which is more or less irrelevant to the lawsuit) seem to concern authentication via a smartcard. Unless the whole android phone is magically transmuted into a smartcard (which had a discrete technical definition), this lawsuit appears to be a big stinking heap of troll shit.

    1. And just like copyright trolling the amount they ask for is less than what they will cost you in court over time fighting this silly lawsuit, add in the place chosen has an uncanny rate of finding for trolls it begins to look like a roll of the loaded dice.


    Imagine if visited from a Texas IP address said ‘You are barred from using Google services because of your fucked up East Texas Patent Troll Havens.’

    It’s a strength in numbers thing. If one company did that, they would look bad. If many companies started doing it, it would put significant pressure on east texas; esp if there were a case where a government was denied a crucial software for this reason.

    Sure, they would lose money and market share. But they possibly lose less than they are losing in these cases.

  22. For anyone interesting in the other side of the story…

    The software activation technique in question was patented in 1992 by an Australian inventor. There was a recent episode of Australian Story which talks about him and the trial against Microsoft. The transcript is available online.

    So, I believe the origins of the patent in question date back to 1992. That’s a bit different to 2005 (or even 2001); the portfolio of prior art would be significantly smaller.

    Makes for an interesting read. While I have to cheer the fellow for winning a long-running battle against Microsoft, the fact that the company is going after everyone, and they’re apparently based in Luxembourg (tax evasion ahoy!), makes me think they’re a bit sleazy. So the whole story leaves me feeling ambivalent.

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