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The Second Life blogosphere’s always-humming soft-serve hate machine recently extruded a double cone’s worth of surprised indignation in reaction USPTO Logoto the news that “Virtual Worlds PPV,” a company owned by Timothy Allen (Second Life’s ‘FlipperPA Peregrine’) and attorney Frank Taney, had filed a patent application on an aspect of in-world pay-per-view technology.

As it turns out, the blogosphere is going to have to wait to get a legitimate shot at ‘Peregrine’ because his patent application isn’t published yet, but there are a lot of other patent applications claiming coverage of virtual world methods and technology that are already published. Some specifically address Second Life, and some of them really are broad enough that the machine ought to be able to produce indignation-surprise twisty cones all summer long.

One application I found purports to covers in-world liquidated-damages contracts. Another claims avatar-based psychiatric counseling. Another — I kid you not — claims planning and holding a meeting involving two groups.

I’ll summarize these, and a few others that struck me as interesting, below.

Keep in mind (just like with the PPV patent application) a lot can change between application and issuance. But some of these look to me to be seeking such broad coverage that no amendment (short of drawing a line through every word and starting over) could effectively limit them to the point where they aren’t going to be found invalid in light of the prior art.

There are many more in the USPTO’s patent application database, and some of the others are at least as broad as the examples I’m highlighting here. In fact, I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that nearly every Second Life project, group, and business is potentially impacted by one or more of the currently published applications in this space. You can find them by following the link above and running some searches.

Send me a link or post in the comments if you find anything really interesting. Here are a few I’ve found so far.

  • Application No. 20070156883: System and Method for Group to Group Entertainment

Abstract: A hardware and software platform for collaboratively reviewing prior group to group interactions while planning, producing and archiving new group to group interactions. The platform may be used to collaboratively create group to group interactions. The system may be used to link two or more stadia, movie theatres or homes so as to provide interaction between the groups at each location simultaneously as a game or other event takes place.

Claim 1: A method for group to group interaction comprising: planning the group to group interaction involving at least two groups; producing the group to group interaction including said at least two groups; and enabling the group to group interaction between said at least two groups.

  • Application No. 20070087820: Financial Institutions and Instruments in a Virtual Environment

Abstract: A system and method to allow players of a video game to perform financial transactions in a virtual environment. According to some embodiments, real world financial instruments such as a credit card or other financial instrument may guarantee some or all of the virtual financial operations.

Claim 1: A method comprising: providing a virtual environment including a virtual financial intermediary; providing a means for a player to open an account at a virtual financial intermediary; providing a means for a player to perform transactions at a virtual financial intermediary; and securing said transactions by means of a real world financial security.

  • Application No. 20070087797: Video Game Environment that Tracks Help and Advice Provided to Other Player Characters

Abstract: A virtual game environment in which characters are allowed to give help to one another and in which the game tracks the amount of helpfulness of each character is provided. Characters may be rewarded or paid for giving help to each other. In some embodiments, help may be given in the form of advice.

Claim 1: A method comprising: providing a virtual video game environment wherein a plurality of characters interact with one another; determining the helpfulness of at least one of the characters.

  • Application No. 20070117615: Securing Contracts in a Virtual World

Abstract: The disclosure provides novel video game methods and systems for enforcing contracts within video game environments. Methods and systems of the invention include virtual and real world penalties and remedies for entities that breach contracts or other obligations undertaken in the virtual world.

Claim 1: A method comprising: providing a virtual environment in which virtual entities are able to interact with each other; receiving a request from a first entity to enter into a virtual contract with a second entity; determining a contract value for the contract,; determining if the first entity is eligible to enter into the virtual contract; determining if the first entity is required to secure the virtual contract; receiving a financial security from the first entity if the first entity is required to secure the virtual contract; forming the virtual contract; and storing terms associated with the virtual contract.

  • Application No. 20070166690: Virtual Counseling Practice

Abstract: A virtual counseling practice. The practice enables a counselor trained to provide counseling to a patient to hold counseling sessions within a virtual reality world. A counseling server, a counseling application, and a counseling database, supplement the patient and counselor session in the virtual world. The counseling application provides communication tools. The communication tools supplement the counseling section through heightening of feelings, emotions, and other patient information during the session.

Claim 1: A virtual counseling practice comprising: a. a counselor trained to provide counseling to a patient, a counseling support service comprising a counseling server, a counseling application, and a counseling database; b. said counseling application configured to provide virtual reality communication tools for operation within a virtual reality world, said virtual reality communication tools configured to provide communication between said counselor and said patient; c. said virtual reality communication tools comprising a first group of strong intensity feeling objects, a first group of moderate intensity feeling objects, a first group of mild intensity feeling objects.

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2 Responses to “Commentary: Virtual World Patent Applications are Varied, Numerous, and Sometimes Scary”

  1. [...] Second, where there’s a gray area in the law (e.g. the validity of recent patent applications on virtual world technology, “ownership” of virtual land, and the value of real world currency) I generally try to point that out or approach the issue in a way that makes it clear it is up in the air. Those notes, of course, take a somewhat more neutral tone, and if I do miss a counterargument, readers usually catch it in the comments. Finally, there are some issues that VB confronts — like the illegality of ponzi schemes, the legality of virtual escort work, and the necessity of Linden Lab complying with the UIGEA — where the issues appear, from a legal perspective, to be rather black and white. On those, I’ll continue writing in my usual voice. [...]

  2. [...] world software or the underlying platform, as we have seen here already in application form, here. Rather than a concept or broad technology, it will be a specific gadget, perhaps a very popular [...]

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