Reply To: Legality of Fan AGI/SCI games

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(re: Legality of Fan AGI/SCI games)
Here’s my personal opinion, which may or may not reflect the opinion of Sierra. I have no idea what the current owners/managers there think.
Generally speaking, there are only three categories of protection for software: copyright, patent and trademark.
· Copyright – Copyright law has to do with copying – and, unless you do a byte-for-byte copy, it would be pretty tough for anyone to allege. I’m not a lawyer, but would be surprised if anyone could win a copyright case based on creating new code to perform the same function as existing code. Certainly, I would have considered this a case not worth pursuing in my day.
· Patent – Patent law has to do with protecting “inventions”. To obtain a patent, you apply to the patent office and describe what you believe your invention to be. The patent office reviews your application, and matches it against other patents on file – and, if they believe it is unique enough, they issue the patent. Sierra was early in the industry and did file several patents – not a large number but I remember 10-20 of them. Some had to do with SCI, and some were broad enough to have used in litigation against competitors. I believe all the patents having to do with SCI had one of the following names on them: Bob Heitman, Jeff Stephenson, Elon Gasper or myself. Sierra never filed a patent claim against anyone, although there were competitors I believed at the time we could have shutdown. Prosecuting a patent claim is time consuming, difficult and expensive. It also doesn’t make you very popular with your competitors, employees or customers. Had I been 100% certain we would win, I might have considered it – but, usually, there are many different ways to accomplish the same thing, and even with victory I probably wouldn’t have been able to pull a competitive product off the market – I just would have been able to force them to change one small implementation detail. Ultimately, I wanted to win through breaking new ground – not through trying to protect existing territory. Litigation made no sense to me, and we never sued anyone over a patent. My recollection of the patents of most interest to you are: we did file a patent on the simulated 3d we used, the method of using dithering to simulate colors and the methods we used for lip-syncing to audio.
· Trademark – Trademarks protect the name of things. I don’t know that we ever attempted to trademark either the name “SCI” or “AGI”
Both AGI and SCI are nothing more (or less) than programming languages. Prior to starting Sierra I had worked in compiler development, and liked the idea of creating my own language. Most of AGI was my “invention” and most of the “big picture” guidance for SCI came from Jeff Stephenson. In both cases, we borrowed heavily from other languages. AGI was a simple procedural language like C, Algol, PL/1, Fortran or Cobol. I borrowed liberally bits and parts from several languages. There really wasn’t a lot of originality in the code. Most of my effort revolved around implementation, not invention. The same is somewhat true for SCI, although there was much more pioneering with SCI. No major object-oriented programming language existed at the time. This was pre-C++ by many years. Literature existed and efforts were underway to develop object-oriented programming languages, but I don’t know of any other object-oriented language that was in wide commercial use at the time. I’m convinced that we were years ahead of the world in our use of objects, classes and methods. But, that said, we didn’t invent them – we just implemented them. If there was anything which qualified for patent protection about what we were doing, I don’t know what it would have been. The patents we filed have to do with code developed using SCI or AGI, but not with the language itself.
Once again, keep in mind that we are talking about events and code from over a quarter of a century ago. I have forgotten a great deal about those days, and am not a lawyer. These are issues that only someone with much greater legal knowledge than I should comment on.
-Ken W