Korean online game developers have often fallen prey to patent trolling. U.S. 3-D content firm Worlds.com filed a lawsuit against Korean game developer NC Soft in 2008, claiming the latter violated the U.S. firm’s patents for communication technology in the virtual space, while U.K game company King Digital Entertainment sued Avocado Entertainment in 2014 for infringing their game intellectual property rights.
In order to turn the tide, Korean NHN Entertainment has recently been ramping up its efforts to protect its IPs and to take on global game developers and game platform companies including social network Facebook.
“As in the King vs. Avocado case, which a Seoul court ruled in favor of the U.K. company, Korean game firms were underdogs in the global game patent sector,” a public relations representative from NHN Entertainment said. “The primary target of NHN Entertainment’s latest push for game IPs is to take on Facebook, which has infringed on the firm’s patent,” said the official, hinting that the company could file a suit against the social network firm in the near future.
The Pangyo-based game company launched K-Innovation, a patent management subsidiary, last year. It claimed that Facebook, as well as mobile game platform operators Kakao and Line, violated its patented “friend application programming interface,” which shows a friends list and the friends’ ranking and scores in online and mobile games.
Anticipating that the API can bring in revenues, NHN Entertainment patented the technology in Korea in 2011 and in Japan and the U.S. in November 2015. The company has already warned Kakao that it owns the friend API patent that the company is using, and that it could file a lawsuit. NHN Entertainment plans to take a legal action against Facebook after it irons out the issue with Kakao first. A team of six patent attorneys at K-Innovation are working on the case.
“Although the Korean game segment boasts top-notch technologies, intellectual property management has been a blind spot for many local game developers,” said Ko Hyung-seok, a director of K-Innovation. “NHN Entertainment will assert its own patent rights and try to establish a business model based on the patents,” he added.
Some critics said the latest move by NHN Entertainment, however, is a mere marketing gimmick aimed at lifting its decreasing profits and enjoy the media spotlight by pitting its wits against the world’s largest social network Facebook. NHN Entertainment posted an operating loss of 54.3 billion won ($46.6 million) last year. Kakao said it would examine the case and decide on how to respond.