Patent News | "Game Over: World’s Biggest Online Game Developer Sued for Patent Infringement"

By: Alexandra Mackey
Category: Patent News

Patent News
PMC, a Texas-based company that prides itself on its almost 60 active patents, is suing Zynga, the world’s largest developer of social network games, for patent infringement.

Zynga is a game developer for social networks, such as Facebook, Google+, and MySpace.  The San Francisco-based company is best known for its popular interactive games FarmVille, Mafia Wars, and Words with Friends.  Mark Pincus, an entrepreneur with no experience in the game industry, founded the company in 2007.  His minimal experience in the gaming industry doesn’t bother Pincus, as his company has developed more than 30 games and boasts 232 million monthly active users and 60 million daily active users.  Zynga has generated over $1.5 billion in revenue since 2007 and was valued around $8.9 billion before its initial public offering in December 2011.

Personalized Media Communications (PMC) owns an intellectual property portfolio consisting of over 57 active patents.  PMC alleges that Zynga is infringing on four of its active patents.  PMC is based in Sugar Land, Texas and accordingly filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

On February 10, 2012, PMC filed its complaint for patent infringement under 35 USC § 271.  The four patents named in the suit, numbers 7,797,717, 7,908,638, 7,734,251, and 7,860,131, cover “the use of control and information signals embedded in electronic media content to generate output for display that is personalized and relevant to a user.”  Each of the patents was issued for the invention of “Signal processing apparatus and methods.”  PMC’s complaint only alleges that Zynga “makes, uses, sells, offers for sale, and imports into the United States” its games which infringe on PMC’s patents, but fails to specifically explain how Zynga abuses PMC’s active patents.

PMC claims that Zynga’s infringement is “willful and deliberate” and therefore PMC is entitled to increased damages under 35 USC § 284. PMC further claims that they are entitled to attorneys’ fees and costs under 35 USC § 285, which states that the court may award reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing party in exceptional cases.  John C. Harvey, the founder of PMC, commented that “Many years of time and labor went into developing our inventions and securing the patents that permit their practice.”  Harvey went on to state that he didn’t think it would be right to let these patents be infringed upon.

Some bloggers believe that PMC is a patent troll and only after Zynga’s money. Those bloggers call the patents “vague” and point out that the patents could be used against a number of different companies.  In addition to this recently filed patent infringement suit, Zynga has had its share of copyright issues, being accused of copying game concepts from other game developers.  For some, this makes Zynga a somewhat unsympathetic defendant.  Either way this lawsuit seems to be just another testament to the inefficiencies of the U.S. patent system.