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  Who Owns 3D Avatar Chat Methods?  
Posted 2005-11-09 by Tony Walsh
Forterra Systems has filed a patent infringement suit against Avatar Factory and Will Harvey (makers of 3D chatroom "IMVU"). According to Forterra's law firm, "The suit charges Avatar and Will Harvey with infringing a patent pertaining to instant messaging in a 3D virtual environment. Harvey was the founder of a company called There, which pioneered software offering virtual reality chat rooms over the Internet. San Mateo- based There changed its name to Forterra Systems, which owns the patent asserted in the lawsuit."

Harvey was interviewed here at Clickable Culture earlier this year about his IMVU project, which, as I noted prior to knowing about Harvey's involvement, "bears a striking resemblance to the look and commercial aspects of virtual world There, so much so that it wouldn't surprise me if There's developers were involved." As it turns out, the resemblance is too close for Forterra's comfort.

Forterra's suit may be important in the greater virtual-world industry. The patent, as The Patent Arcade points out, describes methods potentially used by more than just Will Harvey's IMVU. Claim one of the patent, as reported by The Patent Arcade, basically says that Forterra owns a system for delivering a message between avatars in a 3D multiuser space. This pertains to just about every virtual world and massively-multiplayer game on the planet. However, the specifics (according to The Patent Arcade) state that Forterra's system "...maps the message to a texture to generate a textured message, and renders said textured message at locations along a path in the three-dimensional multi-user environment, whereby the recipient can visually ascertain at least portions of the path of the textured message through said recipient viewport." Hopefully Forterra's patent specifics preclude the ability to file suit against other virtual world makers, but it may be that their suit against Avatar Factory and Will Harvey is only the first volley in a war to own avatar-populated virtual space.
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