Nintendo patents key console online gaming features

Newly granted IP extends 1999 Net-connected video game patent

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Nintendo has been granted a US patent that yields it the ownership of key online multi-player gaming facilities, including player league tables, voice communications and online gaming host services.

The patent, number 6,769,989, was granted on 3 August this year, but is essentially a continuation of another Nintendo patent, 6,599,194, which was filed in April 1999.

The two patents detail a "home video game system with hard disk drive and Internet access capability", but the second filing adds provision for "substantially real-time" online multi-player gaming, connection via an online gaming service, support for online "player performance data", using the connection to download information and do so securely through an authentication process, and the communication across the Net of "audio input signals".

All of these components are well-established elements of modern online gaming, and have been available for PCs for some time. Nintendo's patents focus on "home game video systems", so it's more of an issue for rival console vendors than PC gamers. The PC world might provide the basis for a prior art claim, but it would arguably be negated by Nintendo's specific console-oriented implementation of the broader concepts.

Patents can be modified to add new elements, and technology companies frequently amend existing intellectual property with new, related ideas - which then apply from the first filing date, in this case April 1999, long before last year's introduction by Microsoft of Xbox Live, its console-oriented online gaming and information service, and which also offers voice chat facilities.

How Nintendo will make use of its new intellectual property remains to be seen, but it does appear at first sight to give it some weight over rival console vendor Microsoft and, indeed, any moves Sony or other console vendors offer in that direction. It certainly strikes us that Nokia's online N-Gage Arena service may fall within the terms of Nintendo's patent, as might the upcoming Internet-enabled (via GPRS) Gizmondo handheld console. ®

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