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Judge sides with Sony in game spat

Sony wins a round in its fight with Connectix, maker of a product that allows PlayStation games to work on Apple computers.

    Connectix has suspended shipments of its Virtual Game Station, complying with a federal court ruling siding with PlayStation manufacturer Sony.

    Connectix released the Virtual Game Station in January and was almost immediately hit by a lawsuit from Sony alleging trademark and patent infringement. This week, a San Francisco Federal District Court judge issued a preliminary injunction, restricting Connectix from shipping the Virtual Game Station. Connectix said it will appeal the decision.

    The $49 program allows Macintosh users to play Sony PlayStation games on their computers. The product was received enthusiastically at Macworld and was even touted by interim chief executive Steve Jobs during his keynote speech, but Sony argued that in addition to infringing on the company's intellectual property, the product would result in increased piracy of PlayStation games.

    The injunction did not cover all of the trademark infringement issues in the lawsuit, a Sony spokesperson said, adding that the next step will probably be a hearing to settle damages.

    PlayStation dominates the $15 billion gaming market, and is a major profit driver for the company. The PlayStation division's operating profit rose 33 percent to 78.4 billion yen ($679 million) last quarter. In addition, more than 50 million PlayStation gaming consoles shipped worldwide in 1998.

    For its part, Connectix says that the setback is "temporary," and does not apply to the tens of thousands of units that Connectix has already shipped. The order will not affect the company's plans to develop a version of the program for Microsoft Windows-based computers, Connectix said, although the Sony spokesperson contends the order applies to all versions of the program.

    "We're taking this to the appellate courts," said Connectix president Roy McDonald, who noted that the ruling only indicates that "there is enough concern [about trademark infringement] to stop shipping, but not enough concern" to prohibit selling copies of the emulator already in stores. McDonald estimated that there are enough copies of the Virtual PlayStation to last up to several months.

    In the suit, Sony contended that Connectix's software circumvents the PlayStation's anti-piracy protection technology for inhibiting the sale and distribution of counterfeit software. In theory, it would be easier for a Mac user to play a counterfeit or copied game because of how the Game Station software works. In addition, the company raised concerns about the quality of PlayStation games running on Apple computers. PlayStation gaming consoles normally only work with televisions.

    Connectix has previously conceded that not all games will run perfectly through its emulator, but noted that Sony still makes money on PlayStation games sold for use on Apple computers.

    Connectix developed its software after studying the PlayStation BIOS, although the application contains no Sony code, McDonald said. "The essence of the law boils down to the doctrine of fair use, which is a fairly subtle body of copyright law," he said, noting a precedent-setting ruling which allowed PC maker Compaq Computer to manufacture clones of IBM computers.

    "There is a precedent on our side of the case, and our concern goes beyond our own commercial concerns," he said. "This ruling represents the severe curtailment of consumer choice."