One of the industry's largest online gambling software developers, Playtech plc, found itself among several companies named in a patent hearing in the UK in June and July. The case against the companies ultimately failed when the plaintiff's patent was adjudged to be invalid.
Case number HC07C03466 was heard in the Patents Court in the High Court of Justice, Chancery Division in London before The Honourable Mr. Justice Lewison and pitted an Isle of Man company titled Cranway Limited (the plaintiff) against Playtech Cyprus Ltd., Playtech Software Ltd., Techplay Marketing Ltd., PTVB Management Ltd., Tote Credit Ltd., Totesport NV., and Totesport Alderney Ltd.
Appearing for Cranway were Michael Tappin QC and Brian Nicholson (instructed by Herbert Smith LLP), whilst the defendant companies were represented by Daniel Alexander QC and Adrian Speck (instructed by Linklaters LLP) over five hearing dates in June 2009 and one in July this year.
In introducing the case, the judge summarised Cranway's claim, saying that the company claimed its patent for on-line gambling (EP 0625760B1) had been infringed by Playtech and the Tote. It was not necessary to distinguish between the various Playtech corporate entities or between the various Tote corporate entities, he commented.
"The invention relates to an interactive, real time, realistic ‘home' computer gaming system using general purpose computers. Aspects of the invention concern auditing and security to ensure fairness for players and prevent players defeating the outcome of a game; fast, efficient communication to enable reliable, low cost, real time, realistic operation; accounting; and enabling players to play a variety of games," he said.
"Playtech and the Tote deny infringement; but also say that the patent is invalid for three reasons:
i) The claimed invention is not new;
ii) The claimed invention is obvious;
iii) The claimed invention is not in fact an invention.
Both sides called expert witnesses; in Cranway's case Stacy Friedman, a casino game designer and inventor, computer software systems engineer, and gaming mathematician. Playtech presented Professor Ian Leslie, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory.
Leslie pointed out that the patent in question is written in very basic terms with little or no explanation of the details of the systems it describes or how they might be implemented: it is concerned with the functionality of the system rather than details of its design.
Cranway described the patent as: "This invention relates to an interactive, real time, realistic "home" computer gaming system using general purpose computers. … Aspects of the invention concern auditing and security to ensure fairness for players and prevent players defeating the outcome of a game; fast, efficient communication to enable reliable, low cost, real time, realistic operation; accounting; and enabling players to play a variety of games."
After extensive argument by both sides (see http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Patents/2009/1588.html) the claim failed as the patent was ruled invalid.