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Pokémon Go into the world of patents

19th Jul 2016

It has been hard to avoid the recent, global, phenomenon that is the new smart phone game Pokémon Go. If you have, somehow, managed to miss it, the free game is based on the hugely popular Pokémon video games that were released to be played on Game Boy consoles back in the late 1990s. The main aim of the game used to be to travel around an alternative world, trying to collect all 150 types of Pokémon.

Pokémon Go has brought the game out of the fictional world and into the world around us using augmented reality. A player’s movements in the real world are tracked on a map of their surroundings, and pokémon ‘appear’ in their path, projected into their phone screen.

The game has been unbelievably popular. Reportedly, the value of Nintendo, who makes the game, increased by £15bn in the week after the release of the game 1.

So is it likely that Pokémon Go will be the starting point for a hoard of similar, knock-off, augmented reality games?

Probably not. Analysis was done by EnvisionIP 2 on the worldwide intellectual property portfolio of Nintendo. The Japanese games company was found to have 180 patents and published applications directed to augmented reality and other relevant technologies. The patents relate to virtual reality hardware and software, three-dimensional data processing, displaying immersive screens, and motion and movement sensors for portable devices, just to list a few.

Filings started as early as 2006. There was a peak in filings in 2011, and has been a steady stream of filing since then. Although not the largest filer of augmented reality related patents (Sony had over 600 a year ago 3), it does appear that Nintendo has made a considerable effort to prevent imitation games coming to market. It will be interesting to see, in the coming months and years, how the gaming scene will change following this Pokémon Go revolution. Will Nintendo’s patents become the subject of some incredibly valuable licensing agreements? Or will the augmented reality games and devices coming out of competing companies involve clever design-arounds, or simply entirely different approaches?

In the meantime, interested parties will continue to track patent application publications as an indication of what is yet to come. One of the most recent applications published for Nintendo was directed to a handheld, portable, gaming device 4. The figures in the application show small creatures on the screen, leading the majority of commentators to speculate that this will be a device designed with the new augmented reality game in mind. We will have to wait and see.

This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking any action in reliance on it.

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