On Jan. 28, the U.S. patent office granted Riot Games, the developer of the massively popular game League of Legends, a patent that encompasses "systems and methods that enable a spectator's experience for online active games." It covered among other things, the way cameras function in spectator mode, which is what regular viewers use in order to watch a match.
Though the patent was granted more than a week ago, the news only spread in the League community Thursday, when someone who claimed to be a patent lawyer posted to Reddit. The lawyer cautioned Riot Games against “proactively enforcing its portfolio," against similar games, noting that enforcing certain patents against others may not be in esports’s best interests—interests that Riot Games once professed to prioritizing.
After the post rose to the top of r/leagueoflegends, the biggest League community on the Internet, Riot was forced to respond. In a statement, the company wrote that it has "no interest in using any patents offensively."
"We won’t get in the way of anyone else building awesome spectator features, but we do want to make sure League of Legends players can always spectate freely."
Great for the community, but what about everyone else? Riot Games’ astonishingly popular multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) is only one of the many games within the genre vying for the public’s attention. Given the situation, would this patent spell trouble for competitors like Dota 2 or the upcoming Strife? Dota 2, for example, has a camera system which allows viewers to track the movements of a chosen hero—similar to what Riot Games’s patent is covering.
According to Alex Tutty, a London-based lawyer specializing in games and other intellectual property-related issues, Riot "would not use the patent to stop others from doing what they're already doing because this would typically demonstrate the lack of novelty of the patented invention."
What the patent does do is allow Riot to stop others from copying the way they'll be handling spectator mode. In other words, it looks like only those looking to imitate Riot Games’ exact approach to viewer experience will suffer their wrath.
"Just because Riot have filed a patent does not mean that they will enforce it," Tutty said.
"Patents are often filed as a defensive measure i.e. a troll comes after you and you use your existing patent to say that you could not have infringed their patent as you are using an invention for which you have a patent for (or better yet that the troll is in fact infringing your patent)."
Tutty said patents like this are often filed by other technology companies, such as Twitter.
Photo via Riot Games