The Rational Group, which owns PokerStars and its sister site Full Tilt Poker, has received a patent for fast-fold poker from the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The patent, called “computer gaming device and method for computer gaming” and bearing the number 8,727,850, was issued for Zoom Poker, a high-speed variant of online poker at PokerStars, on May 20. This new development is now expected to have a major impact on all high-speed online poker games in the US.
PokerStars has been planning to patent Zoom Poker right from 2012 as it wanted to secure its hold on the Zoom Poker and Rush Poker variants. But the USPTO had rejected its requests for a patent once in Dec 2008. In 2012, PokerStars acquired Full Tilt Poker and applied for a patent once again. After its applications were once again rejected, the company re-submitted the applications after re-wording them and was finally successful.
Ever since PokerStars launched Zoom Poker, high-speed variants of online poker have become very popular. While still in beta, one of every four hands played at PokerStars’ ring game tables was that of Zoom Poker. Other poker sites quickly discovered that they would lose customers if they did not launch some form of high-speed poker soon. Today, almost all the biggest online poker sites in the industry offer fast-fold poker variants.
Now that the USPTO has granted a fast-fold poker patent to PokerStars, other online poker sites that offer variants of high-speed poker will be doomed. The FastForward poker variant at PartyPoker will be found to infringe on PokerStars’ patent. Snap Poker, developed by WSOP.com and 888 Poker, will never see the light of day in newly regulated US online poker markets.
The patent will be great for Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars, but not for other online poker companies. It would drive Zynga’s iOS poker game Jump Poker out of the US. Similarly, Amaya Gaming has launched Strobe Poker, but the company might not be able to offer it to US players.
Bill Gantz, a lawyer at Dentons Law Firm, says that he is surprised at the patent. He also assures that fast-fold poker games that are not available in the US will not be restricted by it. He said: “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.”