The company Gametek LLC has filed a lawsuit against 21 of the biggest social gaming companies, claiming that their free-to-play, microtransaction-based titles infringe on a patent filed in 2000. Among the companies caught in the suit are Facebook, Zynga, Electronic Arts, Gameview, Wooga, and 6Waves.
Ars Technica reports that the patent (7,076,445) covers "a system and methods allowing the creation, integration, and transaction of advantages." It goes on to state that a user would register a profile, and then be offered opportunities to purchase "advantages" through advertisements.
The patent was granted in 2006 to Shawn Cartwright, then transferred to Theados Corp, and finally reassigned to Gametek. This is a different Gametek than the one based in Florida in the 90s, and it doesn't actually create any games. Ars speculates that it may have been created for the sole purpose of arguing this case. The company is seeking a permanent injunction, but Dallas attorney Mark Methenitis believes GameTek could be forced to enter a licensing arrangement with publishers.
Even with the option to license the idea, though, the suit could have a freezing effect on certain sectors of the F2P space. Smaller studios have been attracted to social games and mobile devices as a burgeoning marketplace with a low barrier to entry, and a licensing fee for a successful but still-evolving business model could stifle or force out independent developers.