Virtual Game Station Shipping Again
After the January 1999 release of Connectix’s Virtual Game Station, an emulator that enables a PowerPC G3 or better-based Macintosh to play many games designed for Sony’s PlayStation (see "Meet Me at the Virtual Game Station" in TidBITS-471 for a full review), Sony promptly sued to force Connectix to stop selling the product. Connectix won the first round of the lawsuit when the San Francisco District Court rejected Sony’s request for a temporary restraining order on shipments of Virtual Game Station while Sony was applying for a more-restrictive preliminary injunction. Sony prevailed with the preliminary injunction in May of 1999, and Virtual Game Station has been absent from shelves since, undoubtedly causing Connectix great consternation at Macworld Expos. Connectix has also been unable to work on a Windows version of the product, causing the company to lose ground to Bleem, another PlayStation emulator that runs only on Windows.
The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently disagreed with the San Francisco District Court’s ruling in favor of a preliminary injunction though, concluding "Connectix’s reverse engineering of the Sony BIOS extracted from a Sony PlayStation console purchased by Connectix engineers is protected as a fair use. Other intermediate copies of the Sony BIOS made by Connectix, if they infringed Sony’s copyright, do not justify injunctive relief. For these reasons, the district court’s injunction is dissolved and the case is remanded to the district court. We also reverse the district court’s finding that Connectix’s Virtual Game Station has tarnished the Sony PlayStation mark." You can read the entire ruling under case number 99-15892 at the Ninth Circuit Opinions site.
The upshot of this is that Virtual Game Station is once again for sale (as from TidBITS sponsor Outpost.com for $20), and you can expect to see a Windows version of Virtual Game Station in the future. However, just because the preliminary injunction has been lifted doesn’t mean that the suit is over; a trial still lies ahead, although the appellate court’s findings may make it difficult for Sony to continue arguing that Virtual Game Station either infringed copyright or tarnished Sony’s trademark.
Sony’s lawyers haven’t given up, filing yet another lawsuit against Connectix, this time claiming patent infringement. This suit stems from the fact that the preliminary injunction in the previous lawsuit was based on copyright law, so Sony is trying again under reportedly weaker patent law. Either way, it seems that Sony’s goal may be merely to tie things up in court long enough to move to a new generation of gaming machines and make Connectix’s PlayStation emulator irrelevant.