Over the weekend it was revealed that Minecraft maker Mojang is being sued by a Luxembourg, Germany-based company called Uniloc for patent infringement. The company claims that Mojang violated a patent it holds related to a "system and method for preventing unauthorized access to electronic data". Uniloc claims that it holds the "exclusive licensee" for the patent and that Mojang is infringing on it "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."
The infringement relates to the mobile edition of Minecraft. As is usually the case with this type of vague patent claim and the murky language of the patent itself, everyone who makes software could potentially be violating this patent. In fact Uniloc is suing several other game-related companies including EA, Square Enix, and Microsoft.
The lawsuit came to light when Mojang founder Markus "Notch" Persson revealed it via his Twitter account:
"Step 1: Wake up. Step 2: Check email. Step 3: See we're being sued for patent infringement. Step 4: Smile."
Persson went on to say that his company is prepared to "throw piles of money at making sure they don't get a cent."
Later Persson said that "Software patents are plain evil. Innovation within software is basically free, and it's growing incredibly rapid. Patents only slow it down."
Still having more to say, Persson took to his blog to complain about software patents in general:
"Trivial patents, such as for software, are counterproductive (they slow down technical advancement), evil (they sacrifice baby goats to baal), and costly (companies get tied up in pointless lawsuits)," he said. "If you own a software patent, you should feel bad."
For its part, Uniloc defended the lawsuits it filed, saying that "it's the right thing to do."
"Uniloc plans to defend our patents aggressively whenever they are infringed," the company said. "This protects our business and our shareholder value. In our view, it's the right thing to do."
The company later said that it would be willing to settle with Mojang and other companies. Oddly enough, the company called Mojang's game "Mindcraft" in its complaint, which may be an easy way to get it tossed in the short term.
"Litigation is complex, time-consuming and costly for all parties involved," Uniloc said. "Whenever possible Uniloc tries to find equitable solutions outside of litigation and negotiates licenses or settlements."
We will continue to follow this story as it develops. Look for a frank discussion on this very story on Super Podcast Action Committee Episode #12, which goes live tomorrow morning right here on GamePolitics. You can read the complaint against Mojang here (PDF).