SAN JOSE, Calif. – A startup has been awarded what it claims is a broad patent on its new style of online gaming. The U.S. patent office took eight years to review and grant OnLive's patent, typical of the kind of delay that is undermining innovation, said the startup's chief executive.
U.S. Patent #7,849,491 describes a technique for delivering fast-action video games running on remote servers to a wired or wireless thin-client device. OnLive announced its cloud-based gaming service based on the approach in March, and it is now available on a range of systems including PCs, Macs and the company's own so-called micro-console.
The startup's crown jewel is a rapid compression technology capable of transporting packet data up to a thousand miles with latency of less than 80 milliseconds. OnLive has designed encoding and decoding ASICs for its approach that are used in the company's custom-designed network servers and microconsoles.
The technology aims to shift videogames away from relatively expensive consoles and PCs, making it a network service. "We recognized the transformational effect this would have on the videogame industry," said Steve Perlman, OnLive chief executive and a serial entrepreneur.
"Eight years would be too long to wait for a key patent if this was not such a fundamentally new concept," said Perlman. "For most startups, if it took this long to get a key patent, they could not have gotten funding or gotten a product out in time," he said.
A generation ago, inventors would get a patent to get funding so they could develop a product. Given the historic backlog at the patent office, that's no longer possible and innovation is suffering, said Perlman.
"It's depressing when I talk to young engineers coming out of college about creating a new company," said Perlman, an inventor with 104 patents who is outspoken on the topic of patent reform.
"They can't expect a patent to issue in time to get funding, so they have to think of ideas that are not significant enough to need a patent," he said. "That means we are not seeking fundamental ideas anymore, and that’s not good for the industry or the economy," he added.
OnLive's patent was not even examined until five years after it was submitted, Perlman said.
The U.S. patent office had a backlog of about 750,000 applications at the start of 2010. The agency's new director David Kappos, former head of IBM's intellectual property department, said he hopes to pare that down to less than 700,000 by the end of the year.
Several individuals and groups have called for boosting funding for the agency to help it hire and retain more examiners to work off the backlog. The agency has been trying to hire and train as many as 1,000 examiners a year for the last several years, but loses almost a third of its examiners each year.
Kappos has "made some changes and tried to work in the cramped budget he has, but the turnover rate there is incredible," said Perlman.
Sources suggest Lamar Smith (R., Tx.) in the U.S. House of Representatives will try to bring up the topic of patent reform in the next legislative session. The draft reform has been controversial and is primarily focused on streamlining issues in patent litigation.
"It's hard to imagine making any headway until they dig out of this backlog," said Perlman.