FYI, I received a request to bust some patent with prior art: Netrek.I remember
things like this popping up before in the past. Who handled it back then and
what was it about?

Anyway, find below a quick draft of my answer to Nick Schuneman. Can you guys
go over it and correct/extend where appropriate? I do not know all the answers.
Let's try to give him a prompt response.

I do not want to ask the guy this now, but I'd like to know how we can *prove*
that the features we discuss were present in Netrek/Xtrek in the 80's? Anyone
still has CVS logfiles? Or what methods could we use for that?

Further: is it normal to not disclose further details of the conflicting patent?


> Date: Wed,  5 Jan 2005 15:57:36 -0500
> From: nschunem at
> To: Shadow.Hunter at
> Subject: Need Help Busting Netrek-threatening Patent
> Hello,
> My name is Nick Schuneman.  I am a second year law student at Harvard, and am
> working this winter on a project to "bust" (i.e. invalidate)
> technology-constricting patents.

A noble cause indeed!

> One of the patents we are trying to
> invalidate seemingly covers games like Netrek, and if upheld as valid by the
> Patent Office, could be used to enjoin Netrek players from enjoying their
> favorite pastime and even sue Netrek users and developers for monetary damages.
>  In fact, the patent owner has already shown a propensity for threatening
> small-time and non-profit operations that he feels infringe his patent.

It it possible for you to disclose more information about the patent in question?
Out of curiosity (obviously I am not a lawyer), but Netrek has always been open
source and never required any fees to play, and never pushed other competing
games out of the market, so how could anyone sue for monetary damages in that

> However, there is some good news.  Netrek was developed prior to the critical
> date of the patent (which dates back to 1996), and therefore may help to bust
> the patent and protect the innovative activities of those in the on-line gaming
> community.  I have read the Netrek FAQ and Newbie guide, and have compiled a
> good deal of information that will be helpful in busting the patent at issue. 
> But I still have a few blanks that I hope you could help fill in (or at least
> point me in the right direction).  Any information you an provide would be of
> great help in our effort to prevent bullying of community-minded software
> developers.

Netrek in its current form was born in 1988, so that should adequately predate
this patent. But many of the game features that you inquire are even present
in Netrek's direct predecessors, Xtrek, Conquest and Empire, dating back to the
early 80's.

> Please bear in mind that I'm not a gamer, so I apologize if I use any
> inappropriate or absurd vocabulary to describe certain features of the game.
> (1) How often are the ratings / rankings updated?

Question to you all: is this per server tick? =10 times per second?

> (2) Are the rankings of other players transmitted (and displayed) to each player
> during the game play?

Yes, both transmitted and displayed during game play. Outside the game the
statistics overview can be generated at arbitrary intervals.

> (3) Can players log on / log off of a game while other players continue to
> play?

Yes. There is no requirement for all players to be present before a game can
start. They can come and go as they please. A minimum of 4 players on 2 teams
is required however to start "Tournament mode" which is the game phase where
statistics and rankings are updated.

> (4) I read in the FAQ that rankings are only compiled in the "tournament mode." 
> Is it possible for players to log on and off during the tournament mode game
> while other players continue to play? 

See my answer to (3). At all times it is possible for players to join and leave
the game. The latter can also happen unintentionally when a network connection
between the server and the player is broken. The game server detects this and
cleans up the "slot" for a new player. At most the game server allows 16
concurrent players. When there are more interested players, they will be put
into a waiting queue from which they can join the game as soon as a slot opens.

> Thank you so much for your help!  If you are interested in any further
> information regarding the patent-busting project, there is a nice explanation
> on the Electronic Frontier Foundation's website:
> Thank you,
> Nick Schuneman
> Clinical Student
> Berkman Center for Internet & Society
> Harvard Law School
> nschunem at

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