Westwood-based video game maker named in patent infringement suit

Production artist Willem van der Schyf designed art for a Turbine game. Production artist Willem van der Schyf designed art for a Turbine game. (Rose Lincoln for The Boston Globe/ File 2008)
By Hiawatha Bray
Globe Staff / September 16, 2009

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Turbine Inc. of Westwood, a leading maker of Internet-based, multiplayer video games, has been named in a patent infringement lawsuit that targets several of the world’s largest online gaming firms.

The complaint was filed by Paltalk Holdings Inc. of Jericho, N.Y., in the US District Court in Marshall, Texas, one of the nation’s most popular venues for patent lawsuits. “The eastern district of Texas is considered a plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction,’’ said Christopher Donnelly, a partner at Donnelly Conroy & Gelhaar LLP in Boston.

Turbine produces adventure games like Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online, which are designed to be played over the Internet simultaneously by thousands of players, who pay monthly subscription fees of about $15.

One of the toughest challenges in designing online multiplayer games is making sure every player sees identical digital playing fields at all times. When a building explodes or a monster appears, it must happen at the same time on thousands of computers scattered around the world. In 2002, Paltalk purchased two patents from a company called HearMe, covering technologies for sharing data among many connected computers so that all users see the same digital environment. Paltalk claims that the data-sharing technologies used in games made by Turbine and the other companies violate those patents.

Paltalk has already defended these patents successfully against industry titan Microsoft Corp. In 2006, the company sued Microsoft, claiming that the multiplayer features of its popular Halo video games violated Paltalk’s patent rights. The case went to trial in Marshall, Texas, in March, but in mid-trial Microsoft settled the matter by paying an undisclosed sum to license the Paltalk patents.

Donnelly said that Paltalk’s victory over the world’s biggest software company “certainly gives them crowing rights.’’ It also means that Microsoft has conceded the validity of Paltalk’s patents, making it tougher for Turbine and the other defendants in the current lawsuit to challenge them. Apart from Turbine, the lawsuit targets Japan’s Sony Corp., maker of the online game Everquest; Activision Blizzard Inc., whose World of Warcraft is the world’s most popular subscription-based online game; NCSoft Corp. of South Korea, maker of the game Guild Wars; and the British firm Jagex Ltd., which produces the free online game Runescape.

Turbine officials would not comment about the case.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at


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