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Google, Yahoo, Others Sued Over Solitaire Patent 163

An anonymous reader writes "Back in 2004, Slashdot posted about computer solitaire being patented. It was a ridiculous patent and made it onto the EFF's list of worst patents. However, not much had been heard about that patent until now. It turns out that the patent holder, Sheldon Goldberg, is now using that patent to sue a bunch of different online publications, including Digg, eBaum's World, the NY Times, Cnet and the Washington Post. He's also suing Google, Yahoo and AOL (why not?)."
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Google, Yahoo, Others Sued Over Solitaire Patent

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  • Dammit... (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Thats too stupid.


    with a deck of cards.
  • Why not microsoft? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bert64 ( 520050 ) <bert AT slashdot DOT firenzee DOT com> on Saturday January 05, 2008 @09:28AM (#21921980) Homepage
    Why don't they go after microsoft too? They've been distributing a computer solitaire game for many years in clear violation of this patent, and they have plenty of money to sue them for!
    • by quazee ( 816569 ) on Saturday January 05, 2008 @09:56AM (#21922162)
      Most of the claims of that patent involve a networked version of a card game, where users play simultaneously with a "computer opponent".
      Things such as advertising and scoreboards are mentioned as well.

      So, the Windows Solitaire is less susceptible than a Web-based card game with advertising/leaderboard.
      • by conlaw ( 983784 ) on Saturday January 05, 2008 @10:55AM (#21922648)

        So, the Windows Solitaire is less susceptible than a Web-based card game with advertising/leaderboard.

        If you go back to the original article, http://trolltracker.blogspot.com/2008/01/4-interesting-new-cases-from-last-2.html [blogspot.com], you'll see that this guy also claims to have patented on-line game rankings, and pop-up advertising!

        • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

          by tacocat ( 527354 )

          His only mistake is that he didn't invent the Internet. Wait... That's been taken.

        • by Sique ( 173459 )
          Cool. So my little online ranking for an online game I invented in '95 is Prior Art?
        • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *
          Automated online game rankings go way back to the first textmode games offered by BBSs, ca. 1980ish.

          But if someone wants to sue popup advertisers... hey, I'm all for it!!

      • Wouldn't Microsoft Hearts be close enough to either be infringing or prior art? It's just the same damn thing (a networked computer card game) with different game rules (which should be irrelevant to the patent).

        • The critical date is 19th Jan 1996. I'm not sure MS Hearts was around then, so I guess it is infringing.
          • by nxtw ( 866177 )
            MS Hearts shipped with an Acer computer I got in 1995, a month or two after Windows's release.
          • A network capable hearts was shipping with windows for workgroups quite some time before that.

            it's annoying that the version in XP is crippled to not have network support and running an older version on XP doesn't seem to work for network games either though :(
      • Most of the claims of that patent involve a networked version of a card game, where users play simultaneously with a "computer opponent".

        It's Solitaire. As in, solitary. As in, ONE PERSON GAME. You can't have a networked version of solitaire. If you're networked, you're not playing alone any more, then it's NOT SOLITAIRE!

        If you attempt to patent networked solitaire, you deserve to die. If you approved the patent for networked solitaire, you deserve to die. If you're the lawyer taking the case of s

    • by Zordak ( 123132 ) on Saturday January 05, 2008 @10:36AM (#21922462) Homepage Journal

      Why don't they go after microsoft too? They've been distributing a computer solitaire game for many years in clear violation of this patent, and they have plenty of money to sue them for!

      Because the claims don't read on a single-player card game. The claims positively recite multiple players. Taking a quick look at the claims, it looks like this is one of those instances of doing something well-known over a network. Given the Supreme Court's recent KSR decision, you could probably invalidate this by finding an instance of somebody doing the same thing not on a network.

      I am a patent lawyer, but I don't represent you. This post should not be relied on by anyone for any reason. This post is my personal opinion, and is not endorsed by Jackson Walker LLP, its agents, or partners.
      • by WhatAmIDoingHere ( 742870 ) * <sexwithanimals@gmail.com> on Saturday January 05, 2008 @11:14AM (#21922820) Homepage
        Gotta love that multiplayer Solitaire.
        • Killer solitaire (Score:4, Informative)

          by AlpineR ( 32307 ) <wagnerr@umich.edu> on Saturday January 05, 2008 @11:51AM (#21923172) Homepage
          Despite the oxymoronic name, there does exist a fun multiplayer variant of Klondike solitaire. Each person plays their own deck and columns, but the stacks where you put cards in A-2-3-...-J-Q-K order are shared. Each ace starts a new stack, so there can be multiple partially complete stacks for each suit. The first player to get all of their cards out of their columns and onto any of the stacks wins. It's fast-paced and competitive.
          • Indeed. You can find a two-player VS. CPU version of this game on the Amiga as part of 'Serious Solitaire'. (They call it 'Patience Race', I think.)
          • by dlZ ( 798734 )
            I used to play a game like this with a group of friends at a local coffee shop back in high school. We called it S&M (Spite and Malice,) not sure if that's the real name for the game we played or not. We had two shared stacks for each player (so 4 aces on up for 2 players, 6 for 3, and so on.) Suit didn't matter when building the stacks. Each player had 5 or 7 cards in their hand (depending on how fast we wanted the game to go,) four "garbage" piles that you can only use the last card on (so if a 3
          • Klondike is hardly the only solitaire card game, and once it becomes multiplayer it, by definition, ceases to be a solitaire game.

            I used to play two-player Klondike a bunch IRL, but we never called it solitaire.
          • That can also be played cooperatively too, with the same goal as regular solitiare (have everyone clear their deck and all their columns). That's a favorite amonst some Grandma's I know.
      • by Zeinfeld ( 263942 ) on Saturday January 05, 2008 @12:44PM (#21923762) Homepage
        Because the claims don't read on a single-player card game.

        But Hearts is a multiplayer, network card game.

        The troll might not want to go after Microsoft with a patent filed in 2001 for a game that has been in Windows since '95. Might be a teensy bit difficult to prove priority, lack of obviousness etc.

        If I was looking for prior art that is where I would probably start. But there are entire histories of networked computer games.

        I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice. Although I am qualified to act as an expert witness I am not your expert witness. This post should not be relied on by anyone for any reason.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          Although I am qualified to act as an expert witness I am not your expert witness.

          What special criteria doe someone have to meet to be considered an expert witness?

          • by spun ( 1352 ) <loverevolutionar ... m ['oo.' in gap]> on Saturday January 05, 2008 @04:54PM (#21926170) Journal

            What special criteria doe someone have to meet to be considered an expert witness?
            You have to, you know, witness a lot of stuff, and you have to be really good at witnessing stuff. Me, I've witnessed stuff all my life, but I never really paid attention, so although I'm a good witness, I'm not an expert.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by It'sYerMam ( 762418 )
            They have to be an expert in some field - sufficiently such that they can testify based on technical evidence.
          • What special criteria doe someone have to meet to be considered an expert witness?

            Depends on the field and the country. Basically you have to have some specialist expertise.

            In the UK you would probably need to be at least a Chartered Engineer, being a fellow would be better. There isn't an equivalent professional qualification in the US but to be credible you would probably need to have at least a doctorate (professorship better) and some domain specific work experience.

            There are also people who might

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Zugok ( 17194 )
            Witnesses, in general, can not give evidence beyond what they can ascertain from their five senses, i.e. opinions generally can not be accepted. Expert witnesses can give an opinion which must be supported by their knowledge in the field. Generally you need to have specialist knowledge, usually technical, and be a recognised authority or qualification in the relevant field of evidence in question (so that excludes astrologists).
          • A little knowledge of the subject, lots of self confidence and good social skills so people can't tell your bullshitting. :)
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Alsee ( 515537 )

          I am not a client, this is not a request for legal advice. Although I am qualified to act as a client I am not your client. This post should not be relied on by anyone for any reason.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by afabbro ( 33948 )
        I am a patent lawyer, but I don't represent you. This post should not be relied on by anyone for any reason. This post is my personal opinion, and is not endorsed by Jackson Walker LLP, its agents, or partners.

        No one would know the name of your silly little firm if you DIDN'T ADVERTISE IN YOUR SIG. If you're so concerned that you have to put this obnoxious disclaimer in your posts, then either drop the advertising or post anonymously and quit being a self-important wanker.

        • by Zordak ( 123132 ) on Saturday January 05, 2008 @03:14PM (#21925280) Homepage Journal

          My firm requires me to have a disclaimer. I'll admit I'm not always meticulous about it, but I can get really screwed by a post that sounds like I might be opining on whether a patent is valid or infringed. They basically own me, just like your employer probably owns you, so they can tell me to do stuff like that. Link or no link, I'm still an attorney, I work for a firm, and they can be held accountable for many of my actions.

          That said, sure, no reasonable person would think I represent them or that they're entitled to rely on my post as legal advice. But there are a lot of unreasonable people in the world, and they're the ones most likely to sue. Lawsuits are expensive, even when you win. So practicing law turns out to be lots of making sure stupid people don't sue you. If you want proof, hire a lawyer to give you a legal opinion, and read the disclaimers in that.
          • So practicing law turns out to be lots of making sure stupid people don't sue you.

            You should put that as part of your sig. Would explain your disclaimer:)
        • by Khaed ( 544779 )
          Maybe not, but I found it nice to know the guy was actually a patent lawyer, so he has more experience than 99% of us replying.
      • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *
        I read the patent abstracts. It appears that what is being patented isn't the game, but rather the method of delivering *advertising* to the game interface.

        [blink] How is this fundamentally different from what websites with games AND ad banners have been doing since at least 1996??

      • Card games like these were implemented on Plato (University of Illinois educational system from the 70s/80s/90s) in the late 70s and 80s. They were called inter-terminal games. The terminals were all connected back to the mainframe. If you want to argue that the terminals were just display devices (512x512 plasma screens with keyboards and touch panels) there were also plenty games written for the PlatoV/IST/Viking terminals (later generation terminals that had 8080 or z80 procs in them that you could ru
        • Or the ImagiNation network in the 90's. I think they eventually became or merged with Sierra Online. INN had plenty of card games.
      • by ewhac ( 5844 )
        What's your contact info? I want to retain you merely so I can tell everyone I have a lawyer named Zordak.


      • by Khyber ( 864651 )
        As the poster modded funny mentioned, gotta love that multiplayer solitaire. Seems like the patent filer in question needs to get away from the keyboard and go back to some basic English classes. Or he needs a labotomy.
    • Why don't they go after microsoft too?
      Fear of the infamous flying chair.
  • by Ochu ( 877326 ) on Saturday January 05, 2008 @09:32AM (#21922010) Homepage
    We have a fly-by-night organisation, suing at least eight major companies, with a patent that is clearly a joke.
    Our legal system works as much by precedent as by legislation.
    When the NYT, CNet and Google fight this as hard as they are going to, this will set that precedent, and it will set it hard. It will make it that bit harder for frivolous patents to ever reach court, and might, just might, prompt a re-evaluation of the entire system.
    • Use it or lose it (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Marcion ( 876801 ) on Saturday January 05, 2008 @09:43AM (#21922086) Homepage Journal
      I don't like the idea of owning ideas and other things that do not exist, but if we have to have a patent system, then I think there should be a "use it or lose it" element to the patent system. If you can prove that you are trying to make a product out of it, or have licensed it to someone who is trying to make a product out it, then you are allowed to approach the courts to try to have your patents enforced. Otherwise, all bets are off.

      70% of patent actions are by people who stockpile patents but produce no products. These patent trolls are just leeches are should not be allowed to hinder real companies who actually make things.
      • Not a good idea... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Per Abrahamsen ( 1397 ) on Saturday January 05, 2008 @10:23AM (#21922322) Homepage
        Traditional patents does most damage when the patent holder release some poor and overpriced product only few can and will afford, basically holding back the benefits of the invention for the duration of the patent.

        I believe induction cooking was delayed that way, because the holder of a key patent only used it in its own very exclusive brand, and refused to license it to cheaper brands with better distribution channels.

        It is much better if the patent holder has no products of its own, and instead offers patents to everyone on RAND (reasonable and non-discriminatory) terms.

        Even better, of course, would be to do away with the patents.
        • by forand ( 530402 )
          So most people don't seem to RTFA here but you do not appear to have read the post you are replying to. The parent to your post said that if they patent owner had licensed the patent or were bringing a product to market then they could keep the patent if not then all bets are off. So how is your comment relevant at all?
        • "Use it or lose it" doesn't mean "make it or lose it", it can also mean "actively promote or license it" as well.
      • by Nullav ( 1053766 )
        What about just putting heavy research into something? You know, spending months/years on a new type of...elevator, and then filing an 'I might use this' patent (with proof of actually having spent this time/effort). Patents aren't just there for temporary monopolies, they also exist to provide details on the invention.
        Some people have genuinely good ideas, but don't have the capital to do anything with them without licensing them to someone else.
        • by Marcion ( 876801 )
          Well as I explained above, if you licence your patent to someone else and they try to make a product out of it, then you pass the test.
    • by Jay L ( 74152 )
      I think you're right (IANAL though).

      When you're suing the bad guys, you sue the most obvious ones first. And if you're lucky, they appeal and you win. Then it's binding predecent, not just influential.

      THEN you go sue the less-obvious bad guys, because you've laid the groundwork.

      It doesn't often happen in the reverse, but it sure could be helpful...
    • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
      We need a +1 wishful thinking.
      I hope you are right, but this guy may well have a case in the current legal system
    • I agree to a large extent to your points; more examination is required to ensure that patents aren't useless.

      The converse is making everything more difficult to patent (through whatever means) the effect this may have on individuals could also be huge. Joe Blow may invent something that could change the world, is new, unique, un-obvious and "should" qualify for a patent - now that patenting take a lot more resources he/she has a barrier to entry that organizations like google / yahoo! / etc can meet easi
      • by Ochu ( 877326 )
        To be honest, I would rather fuck the little guy over if it kept the big guys playing fair. The vast majority of patents are filed by major multinational companies, and if they are forced to actually compete, it will surely work out for the best. But you are right, in that any system that relies on mountains of paperwork isn't ideal.
  • MUD (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Marcion ( 876801 ) on Saturday January 05, 2008 @09:33AM (#21922022) Homepage Journal
    One of the patents is for a method for playing games on a network. Network gaming systems have been around for as long as networks. For example, in 1977 there was a little game called MUD.

    Obviousness in to the US patent office is of course different than the rest of humanity.
    • by jefu ( 53450 )

      And in 1984 or so (don't remember exactly) I worked for a company (long since defunct) that was working on online games, including solitaire. I suspect there is quite a bit of prior art around.

  • More Info. (Score:2, Redundant)

    by headkase ( 533448 )
    Techdirt has more: details [techdirt.com]. To add to the conversation, it also asserts a "networked gaming system" but again that's pure bollocks as Quake and Doom before it obviously provide prior art even for that!
    • by Racemaniac ( 1099281 ) on Saturday January 05, 2008 @09:41AM (#21922076)
      that's the brilliant part of their invention i assume. adding a network part to a game you can only play alone. it's pure genius!
      • It's so other sad, bored lonely people can watch you loose at Solitare across the network. Next step will be a solitare MMO. Wonder if they patented that yet?
      • apparently the network part is for calling home to reveal your biometrics and how long you take to complete each move, so that a helpful company representative can help you understand that privacy is dead.
  • Great (Score:5, Funny)

    by Waccoon ( 1186667 ) on Saturday January 05, 2008 @09:34AM (#21922034)
    My Clubs. Let me show you them.
  • by ehaggis ( 879721 )
    ...Lawsuits for patent infringement.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Dude if there's anything on this planet that qualifies for prior art it's suing for patent infringement. They're the ambulance chasers of the tech world.
  • by edwardpickman ( 965122 ) on Saturday January 05, 2008 @09:54AM (#21922144)
    To patent chess or checkers? How about tick tac toe? Yes it's a new use for it but you might as well say printing on ePaper requires a separate copyright since it was never copyrighted specifically for that purpose. There has to be a limit set on persuing these claims as well. You shouldn't be able to wait until lots of deep pockets are involved for multiple years to sue so you know the damages will be high. The absolute maxium should be 12 months since a product was released but they should be required to give notice the moment they are aware of the infringement. Solitare is like traditional folk music which can't be copyrighted. It's been around too long and simply doing a computer version isn't changing it enough to warrant a patent. The code would be patentable but not the game. If they were all stealing code then that's a different issue.
    • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
      Apparently, web-based version with a little twist nobody thought to implement before (there is a voice chat with web based chess and contextual ads! Yay!) could be patented.
    • I hung around Groklaw for a while, so I found out about the legal idea of "laches". There are people over there who can explain it far better than I, but the general idea is that you can't let patent violations pile up until you can sue for scads and scads of damages. It would be difficult to argue that the patent holders were unaware of solitaire games on computers, and I haven't heard of them asking Microsoft et al. for money before, so I'd think laches would apply.

      Of course, if this patent is upheld

  • by notgm ( 1069012 ) on Saturday January 05, 2008 @10:11AM (#21922256)
    As dumb as it seems, I cannot really be mad at anyone who actually gets to sue ebaums. I've never been a fan of the way he treats IP rights-holders.
  • Impossible (Score:2, Informative)

    by jrothwell97 ( 968062 )

    As unlikely as it may seem, Microsoft could be a saviour in this case. If I remember correctly, its (rather good) implementation of patience solitaire has been in Windows since 1990. Far before the patent was issued. So there.

    • by Alioth ( 221270 )
      I remember playing Solitaire on a (networked no less) BBC Microcomputer ... in 1987.
    • by allenw ( 33234 )
      Computer versions of Solitaire pre-date the Windows versions. For example, Compute! ran listings for Canfield [atarimagazines.com] in one of its last issues that had type-it-in-yourself code (1988). Other links on the the Compute! index page [atarimagazines.com] show even earlier versions (e.g.,1986).
      • Indeed; the Internet is littered with examples of prior art. So this is going to be an impossible case to win.
  • by fnj ( 64210 ) on Saturday January 05, 2008 @10:24AM (#21922336)
    The patent office pooped big time when this patent was granted. As long as there are patents, that problem will never be solved, but there are other ways it might be dealt with.

    In some jurisdictions, "loser pays costs" is a way of inhibiting frivolous lawsuits. I'm not inclined to favor this, because one may too easily lose a case that has real merit, but ...

    How about a provision where, if the case is duly found to be unusually frivolous, or glaringly without merit, loser pays triple the costs of the defendant and court?
    • by Dhalka226 ( 559740 ) on Saturday January 05, 2008 @05:26PM (#21926452)

      The problem with any loser-pays system is it substantially favors corporations and other interests with big dollars, moreso than the system already does. They are already behind the eight ball by (probably) having an inferior legal team and far fewer resources. Under your system, they also have to operate under the threat of being forced to pay three times that massive legal team's expenses? Remember, 3 * $1,000,000 for a regular person is a crippling sum of money. 3 * $100,000 for a corporation is nothing.

      Even if you were right and should win, what kind of odds would it take for you to bring suit with that possibility hanging over your head? Is a 20% chance of ruining your life (80% chance of victory) small enough? 10%?

      • by dodobh ( 65811 )
        Do it in percentage terms, and hold the stockholders personally liable for ensuring payment. So if you have to spend 2X your net worth to win, the corporation owes you 2X it's net worth.
      • by eth1 ( 94901 )
        The way to deal with that is to have a "salary cap" on legal fee rewards. If you want to go out and hire an insanely expensive lawyer (or a whole department of them), go ahead, but don't expect to be reimbursed for your excess.
  • Does that mean... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Nullav ( 1053766 ) <.Nullav.gmail. .ta. .com.> on Saturday January 05, 2008 @10:58AM (#21922686)
    ...this patent troll's trolling?

    Seriously, I see no way that anyone would do something like this to do anything besides prove a point. It would be like someone being sued over the 'circular transportation facilitation device' patent from a few years ago.
  • Prior Art? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    According to EFF, the date to beat to show prior art is January 19, 1996. In 1994 Microgaming Software Systems released the first online casino in 1994.
    http://www.gov.im/ebusiness/microgaming.xml [www.gov.im]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microgaming [wikipedia.org]

    Any other cited examples of prior art? Help shut down this asshat and contribute your prior art info to: http://w2.eff.org/patent/wanted/contribute.php?p=sheldon [eff.org]
    • Oh, that prior art is easy. Windows for Workgroups 3.1 (originally codenamed Kato), released in October 1992 ... would have inside it an excellent networked solitaire game called Hearts.
  • Time to sue (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DuctTape ( 101304 ) *
    For some odd reason I think that it's a grand and glorious idea to sue people left and right on silly patents just to perhaps get it through Washington's head that the patent system is broken and needs to be fixed. I'd bet you'd be hard-pressed trying to come up with any new business process or idea that somebody else hasn't patented or at least partially done by someone else that wouldn't be an invitation by that someone else to sue you if you did a better job than they did.

    Or perhaps we just need to put

  • Don't lambast them (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mrmeval ( 662166 ) <<mrmeval> <at> <gmail.com>> on Saturday January 05, 2008 @11:57AM (#21923230) Journal
    Emulate them, get ridiculous patents and then sue everyone you can. Eventually you'll make patents worthless enough and be enough of a pain in the ass that there will be a change in the law.

    The other thing is to file as many patents as possible with as little money as possible to gag the patent office.
  • by Anderlan ( 17286 ) on Saturday January 05, 2008 @11:57AM (#21923240) Homepage
    The only way I see the BS in software patents (and unbalanced copyright) coming to light is by the people who know the system doing the hard work of moving things along and educating the judiciary and public. The EFF is doing this. We can never contribute enough to compare to what the bad guys' lawyers have, but we don't have to. Just enough to knock some sense into people.
  • lawsuits should be forced to pay everyones else's costs and then be banned from the court. Eh Daryl?
  • by Kamineko ( 851857 ) on Saturday January 05, 2008 @01:44PM (#21924360)
    What the deuce?!

    This is an outrage! Tell the King! Tell the Queen!

    Let me get this straight... Rushing for diamonds? That's no way to win hearts and minds. That takes patience.

    In fact, if they carry on like this, some hot-headed ./er is gonna club them to death with a spade.

    I really hope that a court loss is on the cards for them. And if they whine, I say 'Deal with it'.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Kamineko ( 851857 )
      On reflection, I suppose one has to shoot for the moon every now and then. It's still no excuse for being reckless and only doing whatever suits their interests.
    • Please, this ace inventor is obviously doing his best to jack up the total payment to 10 diamonds. He is entitled to do whatever suits him with his patents, but this makes him seem more like a joker than anything else.

  • They should toss patent abusers into solitaire... confinement.

  • I suspect you could find examples of various card games on NovaNet http://www.pearsondigital.com/novanet/ [pearsondigital.com], many of which would predate the Internet by perhaps ten years. Cyber1 has a Chess lesson running, so there's one that probably came from NovaNet. I wonder how many turn-based games run on bulletin boards in the early 80s also would qualify as prior art.

    This case really seems like an attempt to make somebody pay money to make this go away. Is certainly can't succeed, can it?
    • Oh, in the grand tradition of replying to myself, the earliest games I can easily find on NovaNet are from 1973 - several casino games (blackjack, roulette, craps, and a slot machine for sure), subwar, and there were others. In looking back, I see a lesson on NovaNet the included a community-edited knowledge base, and would have been written before 1990. So take THAT, Wikipedia!

The absent ones are always at fault.