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The Reality of Patent Expirations for the NES

Zonk posted about 9 years ago | from the not-getting-any-younger dept.

NES (Games) 259

Tashimojo writes "Gamasutra's running a feature entitled 'Nintendo Entertainment System - Expired Patents Do Not Mean Expired Protection', an interesting read. From the article: 'This article originated when the Gamasutra editors noticed a number of online sources such as Wikipedia stating that it was now completely legal to make NES 'clone' consoles, because all of Nintendo's patents regarding the NES had expired. How true was this statement? We asked game IP lawyer S. Gregory Boyd the question: Are the NES patents expired? If so, is a company free to build and sell new NES-like systems?'"

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Frosty? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#14012010)

First Post - sorry, Frist Piss!

mmmm... Ikari Warriors (2, Funny)

kdawgud (915237) | about 9 years ago | (#14012015)

So many sleepless nights...

Re:mmmm... Ikari Warriors (0, Troll)

The Standard Deviant (869317) | about 9 years ago | (#14012039)

mmmm... A girlfriend. So many sleepless nights...

Master Blaster, Bionic Commando, (1)

leather_helmet (887398) | about 9 years ago | (#14012046)

ikari warriors...
just a few nostalgic games that inspired me into the gaming industry

ROMs? (2, Interesting)

PopeOptimusPrime (875888) | about 9 years ago | (#14012018)

Moreover, is it now FINALLY legal for me to download and use nintendo ROMs?

Re:ROMs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#14012033)

Copyright != Patent.

So no.

Re:ROMs? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#14012042)

No. The games are copyrighted, and as such will last for all eternity (more or less.) Nice try, though.

Re:ROMs? (3, Informative)

linguae (763922) | about 9 years ago | (#14012073)

Not until 2080, unless the MPAA/RIAA^W Congress extends copyright again.

Re:ROMs? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#14012103)

I think it is only fair that the great-great-great-grandchildren of the original copyright owner should benefit too.

Re:ROMs? (1)

cshark (673578) | about 9 years ago | (#14012440)

Or, more to the pont: The great great grandchildren of the stock holders of the original copyright owner. As most are publically traded these days.

Re:ROMs? (5, Informative)

MichaelKaiserProScri (691448) | about 9 years ago | (#14012126)

Well, no. But you COULD play your legally purchased Nintendo cartriges on a no name clone of the Nintendo console, provided that the console did not call itself a "Nintendo", "Nintendo clone", "NES", or "NES clone". The terms "Nintendo", "Nintendo Entertainment System", and "NES" are trademarked. Nintendo could potentially sue over the use of these terms. But the hardware itself is generic.

Re:ROMs? (3, Funny)

gid13 (620803) | about 9 years ago | (#14012180)

Could a company advertise to the effect of the following?

"We copied the Nintendo Entertainment System! Play all your old Nintendo games! Buy the Clonebox today!"

Re:ROMs? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#14012242)

All they would have to do is market it as "Nintendo-compatible." That's descriptive and there can be no confusion of the customer such as thinking that it is made by Nintendo, since Nintendo would not claim to be compatible with itself. Of course, the lack of a case rarely stops people from legal harassment anyway, but compatibility (interoperability) has been written into many IP laws including the DMCA. IBM didn't successfully sue people over IBM-compatible, afaik, and they have much deeper pockets than Nintendo.

Presumably the rom code in the consoles to read the cartridge is under copyright though so they'd need to reimplement that in a compatible manner. Although why anyone would want to create a new hardware solution for a platform nobody uses that is emulated at better than full speed on modern hardware is beyond me.

These are just my personal opinions, YMMV, IANAL

Re:ROMs? (1)

bhtooefr (649901) | about 9 years ago | (#14012525)

The NES didn't have any onboard ROM - the entire program was on the cart.

Basically, NES On A Chips are now 100% legal. They're a full 98% (actually, they may not have violated the patents if they're not 100% compatible) NES-compatible chipset on a single chip. Wire in the display on the display pins, the controllers on the controller pins, power on the power pins, and the game on the ROM pins, and you have an instant NES.

Re:ROMs? (1)

F_Scentura (250214) | about 9 years ago | (#14012248)

If you own the carts, sure.

Otherwise, no.

Re:ROMs? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#14012392)

Actually, this is only true if you make the backup copy. It is not legal to download a backed up copy, regardless of whether or not you own the original cartridge. Now, morality-wise, I have no problem with downloading an image of a game I already own, but that wasn't the original question asked.

Where's the business rationale to protect the IP? (3, Interesting)

b0r1s (170449) | about 9 years ago | (#14012025)

How many NES consoles did they sell? How much money could Nintendo possibly lose from clone NES systems?

If anything, the title familiarity may help them in selling similar titles/lines for Gamecube and Revolution.

Re:Where's the business rationale to protect the I (4, Informative)

DrEldarion (114072) | about 9 years ago | (#14012065)

How much money could Nintendo possibly lose from clone NES systems?

IIRC, Nintendo makes quite a lot of money on their old licenses. Besides the versions they put out for their portable consoles, I believe the Revolution is going to have a sort of classic-gaming-on-demand system in place. They likely want people to pay for their new stuff instead of picking up an old NES or clone console and Nintendo not seeing a dime.

Keeping an eye on the money... (3, Informative)

jd (1658) | about 9 years ago | (#14012251)

It's not bad for Nintendo to keep an eye on the money, but the patents (AFAIK) refer to the hardware (which Nintendo makes nothing from, today) not to the software (which Nintendo MIGHT make money off). The software is still covered by copyright, so the patent stuff is a non-issue there. The hardware is NOT covered by copyright, so the copyright stuff should be a non-issue there.


Producing a binary-compatiable console that is hardware-compatiable to the NES should (by anything remotely approaching fair and civilized rights) be legal, especially as Nintendo would still be making money off all the things they still make money from. However, the US is dubious on both counts, so don't count on it.

Re:Where's the business rationale to protect the I (1)

forkazoo (138186) | about 9 years ago | (#14012272)

A clone NES would only get you the ability to play old carts. At this point, very few people would bother to buy a cloNES, and also buy a bunch of used carts to play. Thus, the impact on selling downloads of the old games should be negligible. Most of the people who already have a collection of NES games already have an NES, or could get one used fairly easily.

Re:Where's the business rationale to protect the I (1)

Doctor_Jest (688315) | about 9 years ago | (#14012297)

I dunno... in a few years maybe. Look at the Atari Flashback. It's up to a 2.0 with more games... (granted the 2600 is much older, but the point being, there's some market, however small for nostalgia gaming....)

And as the system gets older and older, perhaps the nostalgia crowd will want an NES like they did the old 2600. (The NES being very popular as well..)

Re:Where's the business rationale to protect the I (1)

Elwood P Dowd (16933) | about 9 years ago | (#14012322)

And that is the business rationale for perpetual copyright: If Ron Howard's The Grinch is the *ONLY* movie you can legally watch this Christmas, then innovators like the estate of Dr. Seuss will be well rewarded. Woo.

Yes, I know you aren't advocating perpetual patents for the good of Nintendo.

Re:Where's the business rationale to protect the I (3, Interesting)

GiSqOd (793295) | about 9 years ago | (#14012218)

Good point about this helping to market current versions of Zelda, Mario, etc.

I also think there's a big opportunity for Nintendo to pre-emptively turn this into a cash cow. If they release their OWN "clone" system, they could clean up. They could put together a $35 bundle that had 2 controllers, a small hard drive that had all original Nintendo games, and beat the clone makers at their own game. Even if it was just all games Nintendo made, what gamer geek wouldn't see that as an attractive investment? (In fact, since so many companies that made Nintendo games are now out of business, you could probably put a fair amount of abandonware on there, too.)

I know I'd rather buy a cheap Nintendo box from, well... Nintendo than one marked "Best Quality Nintendo Wish Set" at the local flea market.

This will never happen, of course. They're more likely to re-introduce the original Nintendo at $99 and re-release all the games for $39.99, like 1988 all over again. Too bad.

Re:Where's the business rationale to protect the I (2, Informative)

GweeDo (127172) | about 9 years ago | (#14012304)

They already have. It is called the Classic Series for the GBA. They make a lot of money there. They will also have all those games for free to download on the Revolution. So there is good money in it for them to hold that stuff as their own.

Re:Where's the business rationale to protect the I (2, Informative)

bhtooefr (649901) | about 9 years ago | (#14012539)

Or, pay $50 for one of those shady "700 in 1" TV games, and note that the cartridge port on the back is a Famicom cartridge port. IIRC, Lik-Sang sells adaptors to run NES games on a Famicom (or a Famiclone in this case).

Long live nintendo (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#14012030)

I for one welcome our cloned Overlords.

Re:Long live nintendo (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#14012191)

Go back to Fark

See Digg.com (-1, Offtopic)

Overly Critical Guy (663429) | about 9 years ago | (#14012037)

See Digg.com [digg.com] --where Slashdot gets all its news now. It's like traveling into the future to see Slashdot's stories days from now! But with WAY more each hour, and you vote on what gets posted. According to Alexa.com, Digg will be overtaking Slashdot's traffic within the month.

This place is dead. Corporate-owned, jammed with banner ads, and run by incompetent editors who don't give a CRAP about your input and are two busy posting whiney editorials about getting their nickname taken away in World of Warcraft and expecting preferential treatment because he's CmdrTaco of Slashdot, darnit. Ha, yeah, subscribers know what I'm talking about--try emailing them about a dupe sometime before it hits the front page.

It's time to move on to bigger and better things. Digg looks like it.

Re:See Digg.com (0, Offtopic)

Gojira Shipi-Taro (465802) | about 9 years ago | (#14012079)



I do email them about dupes before stories hit the front page. I've helped stop 3 dupes that I know of. Sometimes they don't. Sometimes I'm WRONG. I've seen one dupe pulled AFTER it hit the front page (I had emailed when I saw it in the Mysterious Future).

I doubt the "is there a problem with this story" link would even BE there if the intent was to ignore everyone.

But whatever, dude. Shill away.

Re:See Digg.com (-1, Troll)

Overly Critical Guy (663429) | about 9 years ago | (#14012113)

Ah. Right. Any attempt to point out how bad this place is gets called a "shill." Your one experience overrules everyone else's.

Good Slashbot.

Re:See Digg.com (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#14012081)

I think only penny-arcade cares about alexa.com

Re:See Digg.com (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#14012101)

I thought Alexa was known for their spyware and toolbar...

I'll bite, damned troll... (-1, Offtopic)

J_Omega (709711) | about 9 years ago | (#14012114)

I like digg, but its certainly not where /. gets all of its stories. Note that the sheer number of stories that digg has means that there is a lot more noise to filter out.

Plus, not being able to post in a threaded manner makes any sort of discussion there completely pointless (as opposed to here being perhaps pointless.)

Dude... CmdrTaco has a blog. You'll be able to find it here: http://slashdot.org/ [slashdot.org]

That just might be why he expects "preferential treatment."

FYI, it looks like digg might go to ad-based revenue shortly, so start your whining about it there as well.

And digg has just as many, if not MORE, dupes as /. does.

Digg is cool, and has its pros - but look at the cons and it certainly isn't superior, just an alternative.

SlashDot is not Taco's Blog anymore (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#14012215)

He sold it long ago. It is not his personal plaything anymore. VA Software/OSDN/WhatEver owns it now.

Re:See Digg.com (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#14012115)

The reason I come to slashdot is not for the fresh stories, it's for the comments. As much content as Digg has, the comment system is a joke, and the people on there are immature idiots with nothing relevant to say.

Re:See Digg.com (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#14012338)

You're currently +1 Insightful, but I see your comedic genius, dear AC.

Re:See Digg.com (1, Insightful)

JPyun (911266) | about 9 years ago | (#14012387)

As much content as Digg has, the comment system is a joke, and the people on there are immature idiots with nothing relevant to say.

Wait... who modded that "Insightful"...

It should be +5 Funny

Re:See Digg.com (2, Insightful)

Overly Critical Guy (663429) | about 9 years ago | (#14012522)

"the comment system is a joke, and the people on there are immature idiots with nothing relevant to say."

Digg, or Slashdot? Honestly, I can't tell which site you're referring to.

Linus Torvalds himself said "Slashdot is this big public wanking session" where people who don't know what they're talking about come together.

Re:See Digg.com (4, Insightful)

Liselle (684663) | about 9 years ago | (#14012138)

You're assuming that people come here for news. I'll let you in on a secret: a lot of us don't. We get our news elsewhere.

The reason people come here is for the bloody comments, and that's why subscribers continue to put up with the "editors", the dupes, the time delay, the left-wing slant, CmdrTaco's whining, and the atrocious color scheme. Digg doesn't have the volume of interesting comments that Slashdot does, and until that happens, you're not going to see a mass exodus.

I don't usually even read these stories as they "break", I let Slashdotters bitch about Sony/Microsoft/eggplants for a day or two and then come back and read what they have to say.

Newsflash: not everyone has the same views and/or wants as you do.

You want insightful comments? (1, Offtopic)

Hitto (913085) | about 9 years ago | (#14012201)

Try 4chan.org
The most honest discussions ever :D

Re:See Digg.com (1)

BushCheney08 (917605) | about 9 years ago | (#14012214)

Fucking eggplants! Where do they get off with stealing slashdot's apache section color scheme?!?

Re:See Digg.com (4, Funny)

LordofEntropy (250334) | about 9 years ago | (#14012473)

"You're assuming that people come here for news. I'll let you in on a secret: a lot of us don't. We get our news elsewhere. The reason people come here is for the bloody comments..."

I don't know about you, but I come here for the hot chicks.

Re:See Digg.com (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#14012283)

/. has banner adds?

I'll have to turn off Adblock sometime to see WTF he's talking about. As long as I'm not modded a troll, I don't care if the editors like my input, the editors are not the only people that read /. :D

Mixed Feelings (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#14012043)

I would kind of like to see what people could do if they were allowed to build their own version of the NES. There would be all sorts of cool addons, like Bluetooth controllers and maybe even a portable version.

The software side would be the real leagl issue. Could people repackage Mario Brothers and do whatever they wanted with our favorite plumber?

Re:Mixed Feelings (1)

Bumjubeo (849737) | about 9 years ago | (#14012102)

Mario Brothers Do Dallas! Opening Scene "Did someone call a plumber?" (Porno music background) It would be an excellent venture, for adults only. But no on the real side, why repackage an NES, with cool do hickey add-ons, when you can get the nintendo revolution, which hopefully will play the old games.

Ron Jeremy (1)

7Prime (871679) | about 9 years ago | (#14012211)

I could definitely see Ron Jeremy as Mario... in fact, the similarites are uncanny.

Re:Mixed Feelings (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#14012237)

Could people repackage Mario Brothers and do whatever they wanted with our favorite plumber?

Two words: COPYRIGHT REVOLUTION

Hmm... (3, Interesting)

PenisLands (930247) | about 9 years ago | (#14012054)

I've seen so many NES knock off "100 in one" game things selling on ebay and in other small video game shops for a long time now. If it is indeed legal for people to make and sell NES like machines now, I wonder what would happen with those. Would they start selling in well known shops?

Re:Hmm... (2, Informative)

cloudkj (685320) | about 9 years ago | (#14012077)

Those have been around since the late 80's. I still have a bunch of those from when I was a wee lad.

Re:Hmm... (2, Interesting)

lukewarmfusion (726141) | about 9 years ago | (#14012176)

Story time.

I know a guy with a shop that sells upright and cocktail-style arcade games. He sells on eBay and some of his products include 39-in-1 boards with classic games combined into one board - he slaps the board into a cabinet and they sell like hotcakes. (Even better is his customized PC-in-a-cabinet-and-load-whatever-you-want-box.) A while back, his eBay account was suspended because eBay was sent a cease and desist letter from Namco. Apparently they do not approve of these multi-game boards and fight them tooth and nail. He was buying these boards from an overseas supplier - and as it turns out, Namco can't do anything to the company making them so they go after the people buying 'em.

The copyrights on these games hasn't expired, so even if you could legally make a clone console it wouldn't affect the real problem - illegal ROMs.

Without games... (1)

external400kdiskette (930221) | about 9 years ago | (#14012078)

And with most ppl who are still interested in the original NES being aware of roms and emulators it's hard to see to much profiteering at nintendo's expense, not gonna put em in the grave. though speaking of clones it reminds me of that christian game company selling unlicensed cartridges that nintendo wouldn't sue because of fear of bad publicity.

Re:Without games... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#14012141)

PEOPLE, you dumbshit. PEOPLE. There is no such thing as a "psn", and the plural is not "ppl".

Re:Without games... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#14012335)

You need to go outside and stand in the middle of a road! O:

This hasn't stopped some! (1, Interesting)

LiNKz (257629) | about 9 years ago | (#14012089)

Walk into about any mall these days and you will find these really cheap knock-off's of a Play Station design that can play thousands of games. I played Mario Brothers on one. I thought it was just a small operating down here until I went up north and found the same thing, and a bit more funny (side note), they're Colombian. All of them! :o

Re:This hasn't stopped some! (1)

BushCheney08 (917605) | about 9 years ago | (#14012184)

...and a bit more funny (side note), they're Colombian. All of them!

So you're saying that if you're really lucky, you'll get your new 10,000-in-1 game machine home, only to find that the box is filled with cocaine! :-o

Re:This hasn't stopped some! (1)

KiloByte (825081) | about 9 years ago | (#14012195)

Like, Pegasus?

I owned one as a kid. They used cartridges that were incompatible with real NES, but the ROMs inside were direct copies of genuine NES ones.

Re:This hasn't stopped some! (3, Interesting)

IoN_PuLse (788965) | about 9 years ago | (#14012212)

Last year around this time I saw one in a mall near my place also, and they were demoing obvious Nintendo games on it. Heck, the Nintendo logo was still present in the games. A week after I saw on Slashdot [slashdot.org] an article about Nintendo cracking down on these businesses commiting copyright infringement. I e-mailed Nintendo about the one in the mall near my place, I never received a reply but they were gone soon after. This year I haven't seen any.

Re:This hasn't stopped some! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#14012331)

Fascist copyright enforcer!

I'm Colombian (1)

Nicolay77 (258497) | about 9 years ago | (#14012306)

And here we have fake "DVD" that are really Video-CD only and also plays nes games.

However only people who don't know the difference buy them, to find later that it doesn't play DVDs.

And there are several playstation clones.

I still fail to see something. (4, Insightful)

laughingcoyote (762272) | about 9 years ago | (#14012091)

Why should -any- restrictions last beyond the period of time that Nintendo is actively manufacturing and selling the system and/or games for it? What "incentive to create" would Nintendo lose if someone did make clones of an old, obsolete system that stopped making them money over a decade ago? TFA talked about "being aware of comprehensive protections" or some garbage like that-I'd say the more important advice is "learn when to let go." And since that's apparently not possible, the law needs to change.

Re:I still fail to see something. (4, Insightful)

gid13 (620803) | about 9 years ago | (#14012210)

And what if, say, an oil company purchases the patent for some exciting new fuel technology, and then just sits on it so it won't threaten their business. Seems to me that forcing a company/individual to make an honest attempt to market their product to have any kind of IP law protections MIGHT help some, but fundamentally I think the whole idea of IP law needs to be at least rethought and possibly scrapped altogether.

Re:I still fail to see something. (0)

blibbler (15793) | about 9 years ago | (#14012393)

How is this different from sombody buying land, not doing anything with it, but still stopping others from having access to it? Should real property law be scrapped altogether, because someone can buy property, and not use it for anything for a number of years? How about somebody who buys a painting and just keeps it in their garage for 20 years, doesn't look at it, and stops others from enjoying it? Should they be forced to let other people enjoy it?

There is no law against being a jerk.

Re:I still fail to see something. (1)

CosmeticLobotamy (155360) | about 9 years ago | (#14012534)

There is no law against being a jerk.

And oddly enough, it's the only thing there actually should be a law against.

Re:I still fail to see something. (1)

rm999 (775449) | about 9 years ago | (#14012428)

I agree that a IP should have to be used to be protected, but companies can just "half-ass" use it to skirt the law.

And eliminating IP laws entirely would destroy innovation and capitalism as we know it. What's the point of R&D if you are just donating the time and money spent to your competitors?

The issue of IP is complicated. I am all for reform, but the problem is coming up with reform that doesn't end up harming good companies or the people.

Keeping the sales cycle going (1)

hellfire (86129) | about 9 years ago | (#14012271)

Simple, the longer you can play Mario and Zelda on NES, the less you are tempted to play a new version or Mario or Zelda on Super NES, N64, GameCube, or Revolution. If your NES breaks, instead of buying a clone, you have to buy the latest and greatest. If you buy the latest and greatest, quite often you have to buy all new games. That's changing with the revolution which has promised backward compatibility with Gamecube, and PS2 is backward compatible with PS1. But Gamecube isn't anywhere near compatible with NES of course.

Like all technology companies, they are simply protecting their upgrade revenue stream.

Re:Keeping the sales cycle going (1)

laughingcoyote (762272) | about 9 years ago | (#14012463)

And I'm sure it would very nicely protect Ford's "upgrade revenue stream" if only they were allowed to make parts for their cars, and they stopped doing so after a few years. That doesn't mean we should implement that situation and allow them to do so. So why should we do it for Nintendo? If they want to protect "upgrade revenue", let 'em come out with a product that's worth upgrading to, and a Zelda 5003 that blows away the original. THAT, is encouragement to innovate!

Re:I still fail to see something. (1)

rm999 (775449) | about 9 years ago | (#14012367)

nintendo still plans on capitalizing from their old games and system. the NES was an immensely popular system. Everybody had one, and the nostalgia factor is huge. Nintendo rereleased games for the gba, and as i understand it plan on doing so for the revolution too. from their perspective, there is no point letting people who had nothing to do with the creation of the system profit off it.

Re:I still fail to see something. (1)

nathanh (1214) | about 9 years ago | (#14012485)

What "incentive to create" would Nintendo lose if someone did make clones of an old, obsolete system that stopped making them money over a decade ago?

If Consumer #2472843 [1] spends 100 Pepsi Credits on Nintendo Clone, then that's 100 fewer Pepsi Credits that consumer has readily available to spend on Nintendo New Product.

[1] I am not a number!

Re:I still fail to see something. (1)

photon317 (208409) | about 9 years ago | (#14012526)


I agree with you in theory, but the line of reasoning that Nintendo would use is that they might want to design new products based on their old patents, and they should have exclusive right to do so. For example, they might theoretically introduce a miniature retro-NES which contains NES guts + 200 popular oldschool games all bundled inside a single controller with a TV-out (like the other retro games machines in controller form factor we've seen lately).

Must... protect... innovation... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#14012096)

Isn't the justification used for these IP protections that they foster innovation and business? How can outlawing compatible consoles for a FULL CENTURY after production ceases possibly be construed as fostering innovation or business?

Re:Must... protect... innovation... (3, Informative)

Quadraginta (902985) | about 9 years ago | (#14012353)

Well, because the only way you can get rich innovating is if the law forbids every slacker sitting around doing nothing from immediately copying your invention (or work of art) and (since he doesn't have to pay back the enormous loans you took out to support yourself while developing your idea), undercut you by 50% on price and drive you promptly into bankruptcy.

The term of a century for copyright law is chosen more or less just to correspond to the artist's lifetime. Patent law is limited to about 20 years, that being the time it's considered "fair" to let you dominate the market for your invention. After that, the generics come, and you better have moved on to something new.

Patent and copyright law was explicitly written into the Constitution in 1787 probably because the Founders had unpleasant experience with a world in which patent and copyright law was weak. The result was that the only way for an inventor to control his invention enough to make a decent living from it was to keep the details a deep dark secret. That sucks on many fronts: (1) The invention may well die with the inventor, unless he chooses otherwise, has sons to carry on, et cetera. (2) Good ideas that might be indirectly inspired by details of the invention don't occur. There's no cross-fertilization, where one clever invention (e.g. the electric motor) inspires a related invention (e.g. the electric generator) or a supporting structure (e.g. batteries for small electric motors). (3) The practise of the new invention spreads very slowly, since the inventor must personally trust everyone to whom he teaches the invention. He has no ability to teach strangers to use the invention, or even allow strangers to teach other strangers, because he has no legal way to force anyone to stop using his invention if they start to do so unreasonably. Patent law gives an inventor specific and limited rights to control his invention, and that predictability allows him to trust people more easily and spread the new practise faster.

Patent law is basically a bargain struck between inventors and the public. The public agrees to give the inventor a limited and specific set of rights to profit from his invention, and in exchange the inventor agrees to make the details of his invention public immediately. The key aspect of the patent is the fact that the invention must be completely and thoroughly described before a patent is granted. That means everyone can benefit from understanding the precise details of the invention. Indeed, engineers quite often search existing patents for good ideas that can be developed elsewhere, and frequently find them. It's rare that a good idea leads to only a single worthwhile invention.

Clones (2, Insightful)

CriminalNerd (882826) | about 9 years ago | (#14012109)


Even if it is okay to sell/make clones of the NES hardware, the actual games themselves (well...most of them) are still protected by copyright(s). The NES came out in the 80s, and copyrights last at least 30 years. I don't see any Transformers yet, so I don't see the games themselves out of copyright yet. Time to pull out my electronics tools.

P.S. Overly critical guy: You're not critical. You're flamebait.

IP & QM (4, Funny)

TeaQuaffer (809857) | about 9 years ago | (#14012112)

Law, particularly IP law, has a lot in common with quantum mechanics. In both fields, answers are often given in the form of probabilities rather than certainties.

I had a lot of trouble in QM. Now I know why all this IP stuff confuses me too. I guess the new expression is "It doesn't take a IP lawyer" rather than "It doesn't take a rocket scientist" SIGH.

oh i don't think so (4, Insightful)

Quadraginta (902985) | about 9 years ago | (#14012413)

Come on. The article was written for wide public consumption by a lawyer, who makes his living giving advice for big bucks, and can be held liable for bad advice for equally big bucks. Realistically, is there any chance at all he'd come right out and publish a direct answer to the extremely interesting question of whether a specific clone system would be legal? When that's a question he can make large amounts of money answering privately?

Ha ha. What he's done, basically, is give a long-winded "it depends" while strongly implying that anyone who even thinks about getting into this business should begin by hiring a top-notch IP lawyer, such as his own humble self. Golly, what a surprise.

Patents from 1995? (3, Insightful)

qbwiz (87077) | about 9 years ago | (#14012116)

Wait a minute - they're saying that a patent received in 1995 could apply to a product that was created in 1985. It took a long time for that patent to be processed by the USPTO.

I also suspect that the 10NES cartridge authentication system is not additionally a console authentication system: the clone NES consoles shouldn't need to verify that the cartridges are authentic to get them to work.

That leaves it up to trademarks, which I'm sure that it's not to hard work around. You could say that your console "plays games which are designed for the Nintendo Entertainment System (a trademark of Nintendo of America."

As always, IANAL, though, so take these words with a grain of salt.

Patents are gone, but copyrights live on (5, Insightful)

CorporalKlinger (871715) | about 9 years ago | (#14012122)

The patents on the physical, hardware components of the Nintendo may have expired, but the code programmed into the various ROM's both in the console and in games is protected by international copyright. Those copyrights won't expire within most of our lifetimes, so I think it's safe to say that the "true" NES is protected. Whether or not the hardware could successfully be reverse engineered to yield the secrets of the system's operation for later use with completely new software remains to be seen. Still, though, if any of the original NES's code were reused or even used as an example for a new OS for the NES, Nintendo would have a good argument against whoever was duplicating their systems with regard to copyright rules.

Re:Patents are gone, but copyrights live on (1)

Andrew Tanenbaum (896883) | about 9 years ago | (#14012183)

Given the existance of emulators for the system, I'm sure that reverse engineering won't be a technical problem

Re:Patents are gone, but copyrights live on (1)

despisethesun (880261) | about 9 years ago | (#14012388)

Not only that, but there is already a company bringing an NES clone to market right away here, and it's supposed to have 100% compatibility with both the NES and the Famicom. The only thing left is to wait for the patents to expire.

Re:Patents are gone, but copyrights live on (1)

Mr. Memblers (877224) | about 9 years ago | (#14012519)

There is no code inside the NES, it's all on the cartridge.

The lockout chip does have code, but clone systems won't have that (and neither does the official Famicom).

I've written games for the system and built them on cartridges. Totally legit.

But why?... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#14012124)

With my USB controller, my laptop is already a portable NES.

What about copyrights?? (1)

navycow (778959) | about 9 years ago | (#14012134)

Just because the patent expired I'm sure there are plenty of copyrights out there to protect the system. However in any case what is the harm to nintendo if they do make consoles? I don't think that they would sell well considering what new stuff is coming on the market, and those that are interested in the Classic games would rather own the original system in my opinion.

Remember Compaq? (1)

Rhett (141440) | about 9 years ago | (#14012159)

If they could clone an IBM, why can't people clone nintendo?

Re:Remember Compaq? (2, Insightful)

CorporalKlinger (871715) | about 9 years ago | (#14012181)

When Compaq reverse engineered the IBM ROM's (I think that was what happened), they had a lot to gain from doing so and thus invested a lot of money and resources in it. Why invest so much money in reverse engineering an old Nintendo, though, when in order to make up the R&D costs you would likely have to charge more than double what people on eBay charge for used, authentic units? I just don't think the market exists to warrant this type of investment.

Phoenix BOIS (3, Informative)

glengineer (697939) | about 9 years ago | (#14012194)

Because Phoenix (remember Phoenix BIOS ??)went and legally reverse engineered the BIOS, and licensed them, and Michael Dell and that pony-tailed Gateway2000 guy made a lot of money and hired a lot of smooth talking lawyers.

Re:Remember Compaq? (3, Informative)

Waffle Iron (339739) | about 9 years ago | (#14012273)

If they could clone an IBM, why can't people clone nintendo?

There were several reasons:

  • Software patents were extremely rare in the early 1980s. Nobody would have bothered patenting something as boring as the BIOS.
  • The IBM hardware was little more than an Intel demo board reference design plus a few assorted kludges thrown together by some recent college hires. Back then, people tended to think that you needed to actually do something clever to get a patent, so IBM didn't really patent much of the PC hardware.
  • Much of IBM's top management thought that the PC was a toy in the first couple of years. They just didn't care that much at first.
  • IBM at the time was operating under a restrictive terms from their decades-long anti-trust case. One effect of this was that they didn't really push too hard on any patents.
  • In the mean time, Compaq collected some valuable patents on enhancements they added to PCs, such as multisync monitors that could handle both graphics and text mode. By the time IBM woke up and came looking for license revenue, Compaq had enough collateral to get reasonable terms on a comprehensive patent cross license.

Any good NES clones out there? (5, Interesting)

Rude Turnip (49495) | about 9 years ago | (#14012162)

I've seen the Polystation and similar systems pictured in TFA at one of the souvenir shops at Penn Station in New York, as well as in some of the electronics shops on 8th avenue. For about $50 bucks you get about 100 games built in, so it's a good deal. A friend of mine has an NES clone built into a clone of an N64 controller that outputs to the TV...it also includes an extra controller and light gun that plugs into the main controller, along with 100 or so games. For $35, I bought a Yobo NES clone at the local flea market. You can get the Japanese version from Lik-Sang for USD60. No built-in games, but I don't mind staying partially honest and picking up some old carts for $3-$5 a pop.

Of course, the best part about the NES knock-offs is the hilarious the packaging. "Best Quality" "Super Graphics" "Super 8-Bit Technology"...usually spelled wrong, and abound the box. One particular box had Spider-Man 2 promotional movie graphics and the device was labelled as Spider Game. Infringing upon Nintendo and Marvel IP...now that's some balls!

Re:Any good NES clones out there? (3, Interesting)

Cpt_Kirks (37296) | about 9 years ago | (#14012227)

For about $50 bucks you get about 100 games built in, so it's a good deal. A friend of mine has an NES clone built into a clone of an N64 controller that outputs to the TV...it also includes an extra controller and light gun that plugs into the main controller, along with 100 or so games.

Your friend needs to chop it up and build one of these [ladyada.net] .

Re:Any good NES clones out there? (1)

maxume (22995) | about 9 years ago | (#14012542)

This thing [benheck.com] is a bit tighter.

Console Repair (4, Interesting)

l3prador (700532) | about 9 years ago | (#14012177)

Out of curiosity, what would be the legal ramifications behind selling repairs of old consoles? And how far can you go and consider it still a repair and not a new console? If the controller ports are busted and you replace them with your own components? The logic board, the power supply? All of the electronics, but keeping the external frame? Why can't you replace the external frame with your own design? Wouldn't selling refurbished things like this be legal? I mean, how much can you replace and still consider it a repair or a refurbishing? Everything that is broken, right? And what's wrong with adding your own modifications, such as wireless controllers and updated video out? How is that different than what Messiah is doing [playmessiah.com] , other than they probably didn't start out with one dead NES for their new ones?

Re:Console Repair (1)

Mr. Memblers (877224) | about 9 years ago | (#14012550)

If you bought the hardware, I can't imagine anything that could legally stop someone from reselling it (in pieces, rebuilt, or otherwise).

Sony.... (1)

bitkid (21572) | about 9 years ago | (#14012230)

On a sidenote:
TFA mentions that executives of companies can be held personally liable in cases of copyright infridgement (prison!). If that is true and if it can indeed be shown that Sony's CD contains LGPL code from LAME, then they have gotten themselfes into deeeeeep sh*t (although I doubt that anything that drastic would happen).

Re:Sony.... Brrr! (4, Funny)

DECS (891519) | about 9 years ago | (#14012252)

It'll be a a cold day in hell when executives are charged with infridgement!

Re:Sony.... Brrr! (1)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | about 9 years ago | (#14012399)

I guess they would have their assets frozen as well.

Pffft.... (2, Interesting)

Spy der Mann (805235) | about 9 years ago | (#14012250)

while the NES patents are about to expire in 2013, we already got emulators for the GBA, and in-the-works for the DS.

Just a thought.

Who cares? (1)

Khaed (544779) | about 9 years ago | (#14012323)

The Revolution will be able to play NES games (as well as SNES and Gamecube, N64 too but who really cares?). NES ROMs exist all over the place. So you can play the games (and other systems) on one system (no more daisy chains of RF adapters!), assuming Nintendo makes it easy and cheap to download them to the system, legally and on your television... or you can download them illegally (no judgment; I have quite a few ROMs), and play them on just about anything.

I wouldn't buy a knock-off unless it combined more systems. The NES alone isn't worth paying more than the cost of a used NES. I loved a lot of the games, grew up with them, but really. I'm not a huge Nintendo fanboy and I don't have loyalty to them. I just don't care. Why buy some made-in-Taiwan crap version of something you can get for free or (hopefully) play in an officially supported capacity?

Now, if someone makes a knock-off that plays *any* cartridge based system and had a great controller or supported a variety of controllers, I'd be willing to pay out the nose for it. Just so I could have ONE system hooked up and still play old games. But having decent controllers is a must; Pac-man is more fun with a joystick, but not so much for Mario Brothers.

Revolution (1)

OneIsNotPrime (609963) | about 9 years ago | (#14012375)

On the other hand consider the business realities. How many NES consoles did Nintendo sell last year? Is it worth it to Nintendo to fight over an obsolete product?

Given Nintendo's announced plan's for a Revolution download service [slashdot.org] for older Nintendo games, I would say that is a big yes.

On another point, I went to a major mall in the Phoenix area and saw a retailer selling the Power Player Super Joy III Emulator [wikipedia.org] . I was quite shocked to see such a blatant case of copyright infringement at a major retail center, and I plan to notify Nintendo's piracy center because it ticks me off that someone is making money by ripping Nintendo off.

Re:Revolution (1)

Eightyford (893696) | about 9 years ago | (#14012488)

I plan to notify Nintendo's piracy center because it ticks me off that someone is making money by ripping Nintendo off.

Why?

Re:Revolution (1)

OneIsNotPrime (609963) | about 9 years ago | (#14012548)

Why?
Because they are just parasitically siphoning off of someone else's creation. This is not just enjoying Nintendo's work; this is knowingly, illegally, profiting off of them in a public place.

You don't have a problem with this?

Who needs an NES clone? (2, Informative)

AvantLegion (595806) | about 9 years ago | (#14012410)

A $10 replacement connector from eBay fixes virtually every dead NES system out there.

The vast, vast, vast majority of non-functioning NES systems have nothing wrong with them except worn-out connectors. The ones you can get on eBay today are much more solid and long-lasting than the ones that were in the system originally.

teh stupid article (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#14012446)

That article took an entire page to say nothing. Only the dumbest noob would not know about trademarks, patents and copyrights. The article answered nothing.

Really lame.
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