In the ever-changing world of high tech intellectual property law, the word “Platform” has special meaning. More often than not, you’ll find it in software licensing agreements to specify, and more importantly to limit, the computing systems that a particular piece of code—whether a video game or accounting program or iPhone App—are authorized to run on. But these days, Platform can mean just about anything.
Consider this: “Platform” means a PC operating Microsoft Windows software.
Pretty straightforward, isn’t it? You immediately imagine everything from a dusty Windows 3.0 286 computer to a sleek new Dell desktop. But before you copy and paste this into your next software agreement, you may want to think about whether you intended to include Microsoft’s new Surface tablet.
After all, computing doesn't get any more personal then with a tablet, and tablets are far more powerful than the desktop devices you were using a few years ago. According to a recent New York Times review,  the Surface Pro runs Windows 8, and it’s described as follows:
“… inside the Pro is a full-blown Windows PC, with the same Intel chip that powers many high-end laptops, and even two fans to keep it cool …”
Well that clears up things, doesn’t it?
Try this: “Platform” means mobile devices only.
A few years ago, the difference between a mobile phone and a personal computer was like comparing Les Misérables with The Hobbit. Today, Samsung’s Galaxy 4 mobile phone (dimensions 136.6mm x 69.8mm x 7.9 mm) and an iPad Mini (dimensions 200mm x 134.7mm x 7.2mm) are nearly the same size. One is marketed as a smartphone with powerful applications (Galaxy) and the other is a smart tablet that can run phone applications like Skype (iPad mini).
And where does Amazon’s Kindle Fire fit into the picture? It’s a book, but it can run Skype and a gazillion useful computer applications like Word for Friends and Greedy Spiders.
Now think about this: “Platform” means a social networking or cloud-based application. As an example and not in limitation, Farmville for Facebook is a social networking application and Google Docs is a cloud-based application.
With the above language, you’ve included iPhone, iPad, Android devices of all shapes and sizes, Macintosh and Windows desktops, Steam, Gaikai, OnLive, streaming and smart television devices, and at least a half a dozen other systems. Is that what you intended?
Today handheld means everything from a Nintendo Game Boy to an iPad to a Sony PlayStation Vita to the nifty Trackpad the UPS driver makes you sign. Console gaming includes Internet connected games and on-line app-stores. On-line App-stores like Amazon sell computer hardware. PCs are as tall as a five-foot RAID storage cabinet and as small as a wristband computer. And where the heck will Google Glass fit in?
And the problem isn’t going to get easier. Territory used to mean, “The United States” or “Europe” or “Japan”. Now servers in China and India are regularly communicating with countries all over the globe.
As a result, lawyers end up writing spaghetti language like this:
Platform means the client Software executing on a Windows PC or Macintosh (OS X or later) device and thereafter accessing data via the Internet though such PC or Macintosh only. Platform does not include (1) mobile platforms, including but not limited to iOS and Android platforms of all types; (2) dedicated handheld and console game systems, including but not limited to Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo Wii, or any future version or form of any such system; and (3) any Internet-based service provided by or on any computing device now existing or ever created, including but not limited to web applications, cloud-based game services, and social networking platforms (including but not limited to Facebook and MySpace).
Now you understand why I loath the day when my new Xbox 720 rings my iPhone to let me know that someone stole my magic sword, and then updates my friends through Twitter or Pinterest.
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Dan Rogers is a practicing attorney within the video game and digital media industries. He’s also the author of several articles on the video game industry, technology, and digital law.