So company with an apparent reputation for patent trolling (opens in new tab) is trying to sue Minecraft creator Markus 'Notch' Persson. They are trying to sue him for a vague alleged patent infringement that frankly sounds like it could be applied to pretty much anything.
The lawyer they are using to do this is called Barry J. Bumgardner. There is nothing funny about that, and I certainly will not be making jokes at Bumgardner's expense at any point during this article. Why would I? He's obviously a serious man and there's nothing amusing about him at all.
Above: Unamused sheep are unamused
Anyway, the company in question is Uniloc, a Luxembourg set-up which refers to itself (opens in new tab) as an 'IP incubation lab' (which sounds like a polite, politically correct, modern way of saying 'Patent trolling production line', but I could of course be completely wrong). Uniloc seems to make vaguely described anti-piracy software for binding digital purchases to specific devices, and dedicates a large proportion of its company website to showboating how aggressively it defends its IP, how often it has engaged other companies in legal entanglements, and that one time it sued Microsoft and eventually lost (but let's just concentrate on the fact that it sued Microsoft, because that sounds exciting, and Uniloc really wants you to know that it sued Microsoft).
Uniloc is trying to sue Persson over the matter of a “SYSTEM AND METHOD FOR PREVENTING UNAUTHORIZED ACCESS TO ELECTRONIC DATA.” (their caps, not mine) The exact transgression? Uniloc claims (opens in new tab) that Persson's company Mojang infringed its IP "without the consent or authorization of Uniloc, 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".
Sounds suspiciously like online DRM then, just like thousands of games worldwide use. But we shall see.
Above: Notch, in the snow without a care in the world. Yesterday
Though interestingly, in his paperwork Bumgardner (whose parents were wise to name him Barry, because with a totally non-comedic surname like 'Bumgardner' there was absolutely no risk of raucously amplifying any already-present humour by way of alliteration) refers to the main offending product as 'Mindcraft'.
Despite the fact that he has never made a game called Mindcraft and thus is presumably nothing to do with this case at all, Persson has weighed in, stating that "If needed, I will throw piles of money at making sure they don’t get a cent". He must really like that Mindcraft game. And what a generous chap he is to help its developers out.
He has also written a blog post (opens in new tab) dissecting what he sees as the differences between anti-theft laws (good), anti-copyright-theft laws (good), and anti-patent-infringement laws (wide open to abuse), concluding that "there is no way in hell you can convince me that it’s beneficial for society to not share ideas. Ideas are free. They improve on old things, make them better, and this results in all of society being better. Sharing ideas is how we improve".
The founder of Uniloc, one Ric Richardson, has hit back (opens in new tab) at the thorough swedging the internet has today given him. Ric, you see, is now a non-majority shareholder in the company, does not own the patent in question, and has nothing to do with the lawsuit. In fact he the didn't even invent the patent at the centre of the new case. Because of his presence on the company's website though, he has obviously (though misguidedly) received a bit of a bullyramming from the collective barbarians of the internet. And thus he has decided to weigh in on the debate. Says Richardson (amongst other things):
"Just think about the logic here. The people complaining about the law suits here are complaining that a company is trying to protect it's [sic] own right to make a living from a technology that the patent office has verified as unique and novel. If you disagree then track the patent office and voice your problems with the patents as they are published."
"It amazes me that people complain about paying a royalty for a technology that stops up to a third of a software companies sales from being lost to piracy. What are you saying? "Its [sic] all right to steal from Uniloc as long as it helps stop pirates stealing from me?"
Either way, Barry J. Bumgardner is demanding a jury trial in Texas.
I'm sure he'll come up smelling of roses.