On November 27, Nintendo filed a patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for a software emulator that would potentially be used with Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance titles. Although this might not be new for Nintendo, the patent specifically mentions that the emulator would be for use on a “low-capability” platform such as mobile phones and seat-back displays used in transportation (i.e. planes and trains). There are very few of us who would not want to play some great Nintendo games 30,000 feet in the air while enjoying complimentary refreshments.

The potential to officially enjoy emulated games on a mobile platform is something that many Nintendo fans have long been waiting for. Typically, emulator software is taken down from app stores as soon as the review team realizes what the application is for. Also, let’s face it, a lot of emulators are sometimes more trouble than they’re worth.

What makes this patent unique is that it’s a rehashing of an older IP that Nintendo has already acquired. Hopefully, this new one is reigniting the interest that Nintendo may have in wanting to expand the choices of hardware that players can use to enjoy some of the most classic video games of all time.

  • Tova Rischi

    Since it’s just a rehash, I have a feeling Nintendo’s doing what they do and just reserving their eggs to sit on. Correct me if I’m wrong, but they’ve had a history of building up extremely strong cases/soft power to wave around threateningly at warez groups, so they don’t have to actually go through with prosecuting what are technically ‘fans’. I mean the only group I can think of is some r4 devs iirc….

  • Laurens Weyn

    This might be a problem for many of the free emulators currently on the market. I’m sure some people aren’t going to be happy with this at all.

    Though an official emulator will probably be a lot better than current ones, as Nintendo has access to all the hardware documentation and could therefore develop 100% accurate and reasonably fast emulators.

    Finally, assuming the patent doesn’t mention some new special way of emulating consoles, you shouldn’t be able to patent things that already exist, and then sue people who came before you claiming they’ve “copied” your idea. That’s Apple’s strategy (and Samsung’s been using it to fight back too), and I hope Nintendo doesn’t resort to that.

    • Nnt

      I tried emulating some old consoles in my phone and they are unplayable. I ended playing only tactic rpgs and games that doesn’t require reflexes and precision.

  • Dana Addams

    I’m not very fond of gaming on iOS/Android.
    No buttons, just… touch-zones. Lacks much-needed precision.

    The games on Gameboy aren’t designed for touch screen controls, and touch-screen emulation of traditional controller input is just too imprecise.

    Plus, Nintendo sells Gameboy games through the Virtual Console service. Overpriced, and released unbearably slowly, but they’re there.
    Nintendo isn’t going to go launching an official emulator on smartphones, when they have a competing service on their own hardware – and they certainly won’t go releasing one that allows the use of rom files downloaded off the internet. Letalone on a platform that is so easily hacked into.

    Basically, the best-case scenario smartphone-fans could hope for is a Virtual Console service. But if they it’d be cracked, and used for any old rom file in a matter of hours.
    There is no way Nintendo is going to allow something like that.

    My feeling is that they’re holding the patent to have a legal weapon against anyone who tries to profit from a Nintendo emulator on smartphones.

    • Nnt

      Totally this.
      It’s nice to read someone with common sense between all the haters and people daydreaming with Nintendo becoming third party so they can stash their games in their stupid phones.

      • Dana Addams

        People have been crying at Nintendo to follow Sega into the Third Party realm since, like… the Gamecube.
        When it comes down to it, it’s entitled little whiners who want to play Nintendo’s games, but don’t want to have to buy the console.
        They want the Halos AND Mario, but the Halos make them look cool to the bro-dudes, so they get the Halo Box.

        I’ve always been a Nintendo girl. It sucks to miss out on cool third party games, but that’s the fault of lazy publishers not supporting the system; not Nintendo.
        Between my Nintendo console and computer, I’m able to play pretty much everything I want to.
        I just pick up the Playstations cheap, years down the line, to play what I missed out on.

    • jksteiner1974

      There’s been buzz about selling nintendo games for mobile devices for a couple years now. They have resisted because of the imprecise controlling, so they’ve either caved or have done something to solve the problem.

      Nintendo could already sue anyone using any of their trademarked or patented property unlawfully, so they don’t need this patent as a ‘weapon’ for anyone who would try to profit off of an emulator for smartphones. Why would they spend money to create something they don’t need?

      • Technically they can’t, since emulators are simply reverse engineering hardware and recreating it in software, which is perfectly legal. Obtaining game images is a bit of a legal gray area, but provided you already own the original game, no rational court would rule in the favor of Nintendo, so currently emulation is fairly safe. Plus, I may be wrong, but I don’t think Nintendo has rights over every gameboy game, so they would only be able to use that over first party titles.

        On the other hand, if they have a patent for the process of emulation, they can claim that people creating emulators for smartphones are violating their patent, again, something that a rational court wouldn’t support, but when you are going against someone who has no funds to fight Nintendo, the patent is going to look like an ace in the hole.

        Honestly, this just shows the flaws of the US patent system, people are able to patent ideas that they didn’t invent and are already commonplace.

        • Dana Addams

          Exactly.
          (Though I don’t think reverse-engineering is “perfectly legal” – I’m pretty sure it’s one of those legal grey areas. As long as you’re not profiting from it, it’s okay.)

          Note, though, that they are patenting a software emulation of their own hardware – not emulation in general.
          This is totally within their rights, since… well, they made the hardware, and all copyrights regarding that belong to them.

          You may be able to handwave the creation of an emulator, and the obtaining of rom files… but if Nintendo hold the patent for Nintendo emulation, they have a rock-solid case against anyone who tries to profit off their old systems.

          Which, I think, is an important distinction – Nintendo aren’t going to set the hunting dogs on every emulator for smartphones.
          That’s just a waste of time and money.
          But if someone is trying to profit off such a thing, they’re in the Cease-and-Desist crosshairs.

  • Only on the Apple App store is emulation software taken down, whereas provided that the software doesn’t contain any trademarked property (aka game images) the software is allowed on Google Play, so all android devices (even if they didn’t, you could install it manually). Basically, Google is smart enough to leave legal software on their app store, whereas Apple wishes to control is as much as they can to keep companies like Nintendo happy, even when Nintendo has no legal right to control said software.

    Not trying to start a flame war here or anything, I just can’t understand why anyone would want to use a platform that restricts what software you run on a device you purchased when there are perfectly viable alternatives.

    • Dana Addams

      Intellectual Property.

      The legalities of emulation are loopholes and technicalities – “if you own the game, it’s *TECHNICALLY* not stealing it” or “it’s *TECHNICALLY* just a piece of software that allows people to run other software they legally own, and we don’t support piracy!”

      Valid arguments, to be sure, but loopholes nonetheless.

      But since the console itself IS Nintendo’s IP, they CAN patent a software emulation of that hardware – at that point, creating an emulator of the hardware is infringing upon their IP in the same way that building a physical piece of bootleg hardware to run those same Nintendo games does.

      I am okay with buying/using a system that restricts what I can run on it because I trust them to provide quality content I cannot get on other platforms.

      • 1. It’s a piece of software, none of the code in an emulator should infringe on the copyright of company. For example, Sony has tried to sue at least twice on the basis that you present and both times has failed, even for emulation software that cost $50 in 1999, so not exactly cheap software.
        Piracy on the other hand, is a whole different can of worms, though in most cases it’s easier to just do piracy on the console than to bother with emulation, especially with the recent disk based consoles, besides, have you ever played homebrew games or public domain games? You seem rather quick to write them off as worthless.
        2. They already have patented the console (for example, one of the original gameboy patents https://www.google.com/patents/USD383798 ), so they have that protection there. Patenting emulation on smartphones however, going by US patent law 35 U.S.C. § 102 “A person shall be entitled to a patent unless —

        (1) the claimed invention was patented, described in a printed
        publication, or in public use, on sale, or otherwise available to the
        public before the effective filing date of the claimed invention;”

        Emulation of these devices on smartphones has clearly been in public use before the filing of this patent, so technically, Nintendo shouldn’t have been awarded this patent. When you actually consider it, it would be like awarding Intel a patent on virtual machines that emulate a x86 platform, which they could then use to sue VMware and Oracle, utter nonsense. The only reason Nintendo got the patent is because they are Nintendo.
        As far as competing compatible hardware, this is the most obvious one, look at companies such as Mad Catz, or whoever is currently selling Nintendo hardware knockoffs. Nintendo is losing money by allowing those to be sold next to genuine Nintendo hardware in most major stores. If Nintendo had a legal claim to stop them, believe me, they would. The same goes for Sony and Microsoft, the issue is that said hardware is simply compatible, it doesn’t contain proprietary Nintendo circuit designs or firmware, so Nintendo can legally do nothing against them, the same goes for emulators, or rather, fake hardware.

        Okay, I don’t understand your stance on it, since almost all features can be gotten on other platforms, but at least I now know the logic that people use. Thank you for explaining it.

        • Dana Addams

          Software is subject to copyright, though.
          Nintendo has a service of gameboy emulation on their portable device – they are allowed to patent that because it’s a software emulation of their own hardware creation.
          Nintendo has a better case because they have actually made the product – they sell the product – they can make a tight case that it not only infringes on their Intellectual Property, but unlawfully replicates it in a way that harms their business.

          I am not writing off the potential benefits of emulators or emulation. Pier Solar began as a homebrew game, and look at it now!

          What I’m saying, here, is that Nintendo aren’t destroying or going after emulation at large – but they have real financial interests at stake, and it is their right to defend it, as it is their IP.
          They own the gameboy rights.
          They sell gameboy emulation on a portable system.
          Portable gameboy emulation from third parties is a competitor that infringes on their commercial property.

          Third Party companies can make controllers without affecting the core IP sales. The controller is an input device.
          (But I mean, pretty much everyone knows third-party controllers suck anyway.)
          Making a WiiU compatible controller is not unlike making a game for the system – Nintendo have their own version, and you can trust its quality. The third party alternative is just another option, like a Mario game and third-party platformer.
          But if a third party produced a console that ran Nintendo’s WiiU games, THEN you’d have a problem, because it is directly competing with the CORE intellectual property. The Retron systems aren’t hunted down because Nintendo no longer directly profit from sales of their old consoles. They don’t make them. They don’t produce the games. They’re out of date, and purely for fans and second-hand purchasers. They let them live because it’s not impacting their profits.
          Nintendo stands to lose no money.
          But Nintendo DO – on their currently being sold and manufactured systems – profit from emulation, thus emulation can be considered a direct competitor. If a direct competitor is using your own IP to compete against you… that’s copyright infringement.

          In a nutshell:
          – Nintendo owns Gameboy
          – Nintendo sells gameboy emulation
          – Gameboy emulation from a third party impacts Nintendo’s emulation sales
          – Nintendo has every right to not let other people profit off their IP
          – Nintendo has every right to profit off their own IP

          I just wish they’d figure out how to run their emulation service RIGHT. >.<

          • Okay, so software is subject to copyright, that means that emulator developers and Nintendo both hold copyright over the code that they wrote, I don’t see how that’s relevant to hardware.

            If it were true replication, then the patents they have filed already would protect them, no need for anything more. Same goes for their games, they are already copyrighted. And they would be allowed to patent it, if they had thought of it first.

            Secondly, financial interests? What, forcing people to buy a game again just because they want to play it on a platform other than what it was intended for? Are you really going to try and defend Nintendo in trying to sell you something you already own, just in a slightly different form, a form which arguably has fewer features than a freely available form?

            Also, as far as competition goes, I can say with little doubt that Nintendo’s emulator won’t be able to compete with current ones in terms of features, such as cheats, upscaling, third party controller support, etc.

            Okay, and emulation doesn’t affect the core IP sales, piracy does, but that’s a whole different topic. Going by your standards and accepting that Nintendo makes money on each official controller, they lose more money to third party accessories than to emulation.

            How is it similar? Nintendo makes money off of each game produced for their consoles, it’s called a licensing fee, but they don’t make money off of third party controllers.

            It’s a pretty well known fact that game companies make little to no profit on game consoles, so nobody in their right mind would compete with Nintendo there, so yeah…

            Okay, and what’s the difference between a Retron console and an emulator? Both allow you to play games usually with benefits that the original console didn’t have, both are faking the original console. In fact, the Retron line of consoles are actually just emulators in a box with controller inputs and slots for the games (source: http://imgur.com/a/T6W4e ), so either you are against both of them or for both of them, since they are both emulators. And I agree, it doesn’t affect Nintendo’s profits aside from preventing Nintendo from selling you stuff twice.

            Emulators aren’t using their own IP to compete against them, emulators contain none of Nintendo’s IP period. If they contained a single line of copyrighted Nintendo code, then Nintendo could shut them down and I would back Nintendo on that matter.

            Piracy seems to be something you correlate with emulators, however in each current console generation (aka, when Nintendo is actually selling games and they aren’t all secondhand), piracy is more prevalent on the console than on an emulator, for example, let’s take the Wii generation. Currently (as of today and technically the Wii is a last generation console, so…) an extremely powerful computer is required to emulate Wii games, especially the first party Nintendo games, whereas you just need an SD card and fifteen minutes to install a USB loader on the Wii that would allow you to play pirated backups. Which do you think pirates are going to use? To put it simply, by the time emulation is good enough to be playable (and the Wii scene did this really early), piracy on the console is far easier, since you can just get a console with a broken disk drive for cheap and use that to pirate games. The same goes for the cartridge games, I mean people are still making N64 flash carts that hold thousands of roms, in fact, you could probably put every N64 game ever made on it, then play it in a real N64.
            My point is that emulation =/= piracy, I support emulation, but I disapprove of piracy. Most people connect the two, but they are really quite different topics, since emulation allows me to continue playing games I have purchased even if the original hardware dies.

            And I agree, Nintendo really needs to get their act together on basically any part of their online stuff, like if you bought a VC title on the Wii, it should automatically transfer over to the Wii U version of the VC title (and thus support off screen play, though not much else). In short, they just need to get their act together, though I don’t think their fanbase really cares enough, since they still support a system that promotes overly weak hardware, poor online support, and seems to be ignorant to what people ask for.

            In fact, that’s part of their problem, like take the PS3 for example (yes, I’m kind-of a fan of how Sony handles their consoles), The PS3 is powerful enough that on the only emulator for the system, you can’t emulate more than 20 games and most of those don’t go past the title screen, plus they still provide updates to the system to minimize piracy on the actual console (it exists, but only for a limited subset of consoles). Now Sony doesn’t really have to worry about legal emulators getting in the way of PlayStation Now since they made a console that was hard to emulate, unlike most of Nintendo’s consoles.

            Again, you are entitled to your opinion, I’m just trying to help you make an informed opinion.

          • Dana Addams

            You seem to have completely missed my main points…

            Do I support Nintendo “selling me a game I already own, for use on a different system?”
            Yes.
            I absolutely do.
            It is their right as the owner of the IP, and anything that conflicts with that is harmful.

            I’m something of a game dev, myself – if I am to make a game for one system, then sell it, those who purchased it originally are not entitled to the new release.
            Buying a SNES cartridge comes with certain caveats, for example – caveats like “this is made for a SNES system and that’s what you get to use it on.”
            What you bought was a cartridge full of data that you are permitted to use – not a license or deed of entitlement to that data.
            If that cartridge is lost, damaged, etc. you do not have the right to the software by other means. This is why downloading roms of games you own is such a “grey area.”

            Many gamers have this sense of entitlement.

            Like I already said, I do not disregard the potential benefits of emulation.
            My favourite, even murkier area, is that of translation hacks, to bring games to an audience that could otherwise not experience it.
            Seiken Densetsu 3, anyone?
            The Retron System – again as I said – is about enabling you to use the items you had. It is a third-party replacement for an abandoned machine. Nintendo no longer manufacture machines to run those cartridges, nor do they manufacture those cartridges.
            The Retron is a perfect example of a positive side of emulation.
            Think of it like a company manufacturing parts for an old car that the original manufacturer no longer supports.

            My biggest issue besides the painfully slow release schedule, is the ridiculously high pricing. If they lowered the costs, it would be much more tempting to just drop a couple dollars on an old game you might like as a “why not, it’s cheap.”
            As it is, you will probably only buy classics you really enjoyed.
            I still have my beloved Donkey Kong Country carts. Will I pay for the privilege of playing them again, and housing them on my Wii U? Absolutely. And I’ll only grumble about the price because I think they’re charging too much, and sales would benefit from lower prices.
            I won’t feel cheated having to buy games I already own on other platforms, because I know I am not entitled to those games on other platforms.
            I am not entitled to an emulator if my old SNES breaks.
            I’m not ENTITLED to anything.
            I respect and indeed am thankful that emulators exist. I respect that we can justify their use with grey-area ideals.
            I never even once brought up the issue of current-gen emulation which is impractical at best, and damn near impossible to do effectively.

            But as a developer, I 100% support Nintendo’s right to profit from their IP – and since they offer a paid emulation service, I understand and support their right to prevent infringing competition to that service, in the form of third-party emulators that can be used to run rom files of a game you owned on another system, yet have no right to use on anything but that system.

            In short:
            Buying the cartridge is not a universal software license.
            You’re not entitled to the game on your phone because you have it on your gameboy.
            If Nintendo wants to sell you that game on a portable device, and wants that to be the 3DS, that is their right. Just as it is their right to forbid it on another portable device that they do not own.

            It’s about respecting the rights and wishes of the developer. =)

          • Exactly, they aren’t entitled to the new release, they are simply entitled to the software that they bought. If you want people to buy the new release, you add value to it.

            Okay, then rip the roms from the carts yourself, problem solved? Or better yet, keep the carts in a cart reader at your house and stream data over your cellular connection to your smartphone, then we’re talking exactly like your example console, using carts and even official controllers if you want.

            Okay, so you support emulation when it falls into categories that fit your wants, but are against it when it doesn’t? You do realize that the exact same code that allows the Retron to run is the code that allows one to emulate the super nintendo (and other consoles) on your smartphone. If Nintendo shuts one down, then they all go down, you can’t pick and choose.

            And yes, you clearly stated the exact goal of emulation, preserving hardware so that we can run software when the hardware fails, exactly the point of the Retron and exactly the point of most every other emulator out there.

            You are right, you aren’t entitled to it, but it’s something that other people have willingly made and made available under open licenses because they wanted to be able to play games long after their hardware died. For that matter, I am not entitled to the Retron, which wouldn’t exist if not for other emulation code (and the Retron is actually likely illegal since it almost certainly copied copyrighted code from other emulators).

            Great I support Nintendo’s right to profit from their IP as well and I own plenty of games of theirs and several consoles. But, emulation isn’t infringing, if it was infringing, Nintendo would have shut it down long ago. That’s simply a fact, if Nintendo had the legal right to shut down emulation, then they would have done so long ago. I mean take the Retron for example, if your SNES died and it didn’t exist, then you’d have no choice but to either buy another used console or buy the games on your Wii U, profiting Nintendo. So technically the Retron does hurt Nintendo’s profits, since it means you don’t go out and buy the game on the newer console, or aren’t forced to if you want to use software you already own.

            In short, you are right, if it was an universal software license (à la MIT), then piracy would be legal, but just because it isn’t a universal license doesn’t mean that the courts lack common sense. What the courts usually say is that once you buy something, it’s yours. Do what you want with it as long as it doesn’t break copyright or a patent. Emulation hasn’t broken any legal patents and it sure hasn’t broken copyright, so no sane court is going to touch the subject.

            Basically though, developers aren’t gods, and just because they want something to be the case, doesn’t mean that it is. Patent law prohibits patenting ideas that already exist to protect consumers and most lawsuits over emulation side with the consumer. In short, the consumer isn’t an all out god, but the laws are designed to protect them.

            I can tell that you have the mindset of a developer and not a consumer and it would seem that you don’t completely understand the basics of emulation (again, zero IP infringement, the most they infringe is with the name, and that’s protected under fair use), but that’s alright, you are a developer and I hear that’s a pretty tough world to live in, if you give the consumers any slack, they’ll take every inch of it and more. You seem set in your ways and that’s probably good if you are a developer.

            I just look at what the laws are and what previous lawsuits have shown. Even the Sony, who went after George Hotz, isn’t dumb enough to try and squash emulators for their consoles, since they couldn’t win because of the way the laws work in favor the the consumer. The consumers have rights whether you like it or not and in most cases, those rights are considered more important than the rights of the developer.

            In the end, I suppose you can believe what you want. I can’t make you change what you believe, nor do I really care to spend more time on this subject, since I have to study for finals, but I can say that I, as a consumer, stand by the side of legal emulation and I also as a consumer support companies making new content by buying that content if it interests me.

  • Trinosaur

    Anything to make Nintendo content more accessible, I’m game. Let’s hope we see some iOS content. I’d love to play games on my ipad.