Get Ready for Legal War over PokerStars’ U.S. Fast-fold Patent

PokerStars’ parent company, the Rational Group, have succeeded where the old Full Tilt failed: they’ve managed to patent fast-fold poker. Much like Full Tilt, which they now own, Rational had also been rejected in their quest to make fast-fold variants their own. However, they met with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to reword certain language in the application and get it accepted.

Patent No. 8,727,850, officially known as “Computer gaming device and method for computer gaming,” gives Rational exclusive rights to fast-fold poker variants – games that move players to a new table with new cards as soon as they fold. This means that their Zoom Poker (Stars) product will be the only one legally allowed in America, despite the fact that Rational have failed to gain a US license so far. At this point, it’s unclear whether Full Tilt’s Rush Poker also falls under the patent.

What Impact Does This Patent Have On Other Fast-fold Poker Sites?

As many players know, most major poker networks in the world offer a fast-fold variant. And PokerStars’ US patent doesn’t figure to affect any of these sites. It’s possible that the patent won’t even affect grey-area poker rooms that operate in America like Bovada and their Zone Poker product. Instead, the immediate impact will be felt by networks/sites that legally operate within the US such as partypoker (FastForward) and 888 (Snap Poker).

The latter provides software for while partypoker operate on the Party Borgata network. Both poker entities offer fast-fold tables, meaning they have more to worry about than anybody with regard to the PokerStars patent. And this is certainly damaging because fast-fold variants are very popular among the recreational player base.

Will Anybody challenge this Patent?

It’s unlikely that partypoker, 888 or any other present/future US site will let this patent go without a challenge. After all, having exclusive rights to fast-fold poker would give PokerStars an even bigger advantage than they already have.

Intellectual property lawyer Bill Gantz offers the opinion that this patent is challengeable based on how strange it is that Rational only needed to make obvious amendments. Here’s an excerpt from what Gantz wrote at Denton:

It is truly surprising here that the Pokerstars application survived multiple wholesale rejections, and that this patent appears to have issued because the prior art available to the Examiner simply did not teach that a game server should be configured to prevent a player who folds from playing the hand they just folded. Everyone knows a fold means you are out of the hand. It is also surprising that the patent issued over prior art cited by the Examiner teaching taking a fold ‘out of turn.’ The amendments which allowed this patent to issue should seem obvious to the entire poker industry, and there should be ample grounds for vigorously challenging this patent.

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