Zynga’s Patent Portfolio Swells as It Doubles Down on Casino Gaming

casino_freerishadOver the past year, Zynga has aggressively acquired dozens of game patents with an emphasis on gambling.

According to a report by Envision IP, an intellectual property research firm, Zynga has grown its holdings from a single patent and nine pending a year ago to roughly 89 U.S. patents and 36 pending today.

A Zynga representative declined to comment.

A quick search on the U.S. patent site reveals that Zynga owns at least 50 patents for everything from “finding friends for multi-user online games” to “changing virtual items based on location-based actions” and “harvest mechanics for interactive social games.”

Envision Managing Director Maulin Shah explains that another 38 or so patents have been reassigned to Zynga by a company named Walker Digital. Of those, he said, 33 patents relate to casino gaming and gambling technologies.

The patents reassigned to Zynga range from technology that allows users to place wagers, to team play within a casino slot club, to making payouts based on predefined rules. Another five had to do with audio streaming.

Shah said a significant ramp-up in patent holdings can be normal, especially if a company is trying to expand into a new business line. “They probably found it prudent to get some patents before they entered the online gambling space,” he said.

To be sure, Zynga is serious about moving into real-money gaming from its core business of selling virtual goods on Facebook.

Last month, it launched two landing pages in the U.K. that will eventually become the home to 180 casino games, including slots, roulette and blackjack. Additionally, Zynga’s FarmVille brand is expected to be used for one of the slot games. It also began the arduous process of seeking a license in Nevada to conduct real-money gaming online. The process could take close to two years — in just one state.

The acquisition of licenses from Walker Digital is the most interesting part of this story.

In August, The Wall Street Journal reported that Walker Digital had filed about 30 lawsuits targeting hundreds of companies, including Amazon.com, Google and Zynga. Walker Digital, which is owned by Jay Walker, the founder of Priceline.com, is known for enforcing patents opportunistically (a.k.a. patent trolling).

Shah said on March 26 that the case was dismissed, just four days after Walker Digital reassigned the 33 patents to Zynga. However, the patent at issue in the lawsuit was not one of the ones reassigned.

It is completely unclear if those events are connected, or how much Zynga paid for the patents (if anything). But Zynga’s not talking. We also sent an email to Walker Digital, but did not hear back immediately. If we do, we’ll be sure to provide an update.

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