Law of Cards: Yahoo Tries to Patent an "Unprecedented" Trading Card App, Fails for Now

Law of Cards: Yahoo Tries to Patent an “Unprecedented” Trading Card App, Fails for Now

In a recently published patent application (entitled, "Dynamic Player Cards"), Yahoo touts a virtual trading card software program that it is developing. Now, a patent is not an advertisement, so what we can discern about the invention described therein often will be jumbled. Take for example the claims of Yahoo's patent application which cryptically describe its new product:

    1. A method for dynamic presentation of a plurality of planar objects, comprising: using a processor device operably coupled with a memory, said memory comprising computer-executable instructions performing: generating an interface on a user device, said interface comprising a display of user-selectable interactive features manipulating the planar objects; receiving a selection of a user-selectable interactive feature; and enabling the selected user-selectable interactive feature on the user device.

Ugh, right? Let's translate the incomprehensible language of Patent-eze into English:

    1. A method for dynamic presentation of a plurality of planar objects, comprising:

  - A method of displaying more than one electronic trading card

 …using a processor device operably coupled with a memory, said memory comprising computer-executable instructions performing:

  – on a computer/smartphone/tablet/phablet/Speak-and-Spell/whatever

 …generating an interface on a user device, said interface comprising a display of user-selectable interactive features manipulating the planar objects; receiving a selection of a user-selectable interactive feature; and enabling the selected user-selectable interactive feature on the user device.

  – through which a person can and does somehow change the trading cards with a computer program on the computer/smartphone/tablet/phablet/Speak-and-Spell/whatever.

Wait, it's just a method of displaying multiple trading cards and allowing a user to change those cards somehow? Why didn't they just say that?

Stupid Patent-eze.

And, I'm sorry, but Yahoo's program doesn't seem patentable because I'm pretty sure there have been other programs/apps/websites/patents that have offered similar services (for years in fact). Since patents are supposed to be limited to inventors who invent something new, I don't think Yahoo will get a patent on this.

Even still, Yahoo believes its invention is patentable. In fact, it refers to its invention as "unprecedented." That's not an exaggeration:

As cards can be entirely dynamic, users may be able to collect series of virtual cards just as people have collected baseball cards for years. Their interactions are unprecedented and offer a unique, new and engaging way to interact--giving incentive to both collect cards and engage directly with the content. One way to engage with the content is for a user to click on any card to flip it over. The "flip side" of the card reveals ancillary information such as a player's stats, hometown, and the like. Here you will find information not included in the primary display.

I mean, with Yahoo's program, you can flip the card on the computer just like you would flip a card in real life?

Truly "unprecedented."

Can you see me clicking repeatedly on the sarcasm button here? And wouldn't a "sarcasm button" actually be more of an "unprecedented" invention?

Yahoo's application also provides pictures that show off the "unprecedented" interactions performed on virtual trading cards.

So if I'm reading that drop down menu correctly, a user can change a card by distressing it, shadowing it, doing something to it called alpha-ing, applying something called a breathing shadow.

Uh, what?

Thankfully, Yahoo defines each of the options.

Distressing "provides an 'aged' appearance to the cards."

Whew, I'm glad it only ages the appearance of cards, because I was worried "distressing" would make the virtual cards nervous. But really, "distressing"? Is that what collectors want? Electronic trading cards that should be impervious to the elements, somehow changed so they grade at a lower level?

"Alpha--with this feature enabled, the cards become opaque"

Oooh, non-see-through cards. Just like in real life.

"Shadow--with this feature enabled, the active card appears to be lifted off the surface, in a faux three dimensional (3D) space."

Just like, in real life, when you pick up a card and it makes a shadow on the desk, you can now do that on your computer. Unprecedented!

And my favorite interaction, the "breathing shadow." No, it's not a creepy guy hanging around alleyways wearing nothing more than a trench coat. It's a function that allows a user to make "the shadow around the active card…pulsate slowly."

Still creepy.

Other "groundbreaking" functions allow a user to "tile" and "tilt" their cards and, get this, "zoom," as well as "bounce" which is defined as "with this feature enabled, the active card appears to 'bounce.'"

I'm sorry, I've hit the patented sarcasm button so many times during those last few paragraphs it's broken.

Despite my mocking, what should electronic trading card manufacturers think about this patent application? I don't think you should worry, but you should watch. According to the Patent Office website, an Office Action (aka an initial rejection) was sent Yahoo's way on March 13 rejecting all of the claims in view of prior art. So, Yahoo won't get a patent on its first pass through.

To make a prediction, if Yahoo somehow does receive a patent at some point, it's unlikely to be this broad.  Yahoo will need to overcome a lot of prior art already cited by the Patent Office. And that prior art does not even include Wildcat's electronic trading card patents, which not only predate this patent by 15 years, but were also litigated against, basically, every trading card manufacturer out there for their own virtual trading card products. Given the variety of older virtual card products out there, I don't think this patent application stands much of a chance.

Although, maybe there's room for a Yahoo patent on the "breathing shadow." I'm pretty sure no one ever did that with a card before.

At least, I hope not.

And I should note to Yahoo, your program might actually be fun and/or useful. It's just, please, from now on, try not to use the word "unprecedented" to describe an invention that's been around for years now, OK?

The information provided in Paul Lesko's "Law of Cards" column is not intended to be legal advice, but merely conveys general information related to legal issues commonly encountered in the sports industry. This information is not intended to create any legal relationship between Paul Lesko, the Simmons Browder Gianaris Angelides & Barnerd LLC or any attorney and the user. Neither the transmission nor receipt of these website materials will create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the readers.

The views expressed in the "Law of Cards" column are solely those of the author and are not affiliated with the Simmons Law Firm. You should not act or rely on any information in the "Law of Cards" column without seeking the advice of an attorney. The determination of whether you need legal services and your choice of a lawyer are very important matters that should not be based on websites or advertisements.

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Paul Lesko is a shareholder at Simmons Hanly Conroy and the chair of its Intellectual Property Department (http://www.simmonsfirm.com). Don’t hold the fact that Paul is a lawyer against him, he’s also a rabid baseball and college basketball fan, and an avid baseball card collector. Paul can be found on Twitter @Paul_Lesko and Google+.

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