10NES was the authentication code for the American
Nintendo Entertainment System(NES) video game console. The system consisted of two parts--a computer chipin the NES that would check the cartridge in the system for authentication, and a chip in the cartridge that would give the 10NES code upon demand. If the cartridge did not provide the authentication, then the system would not boot up. The 10NES was patented under US patent|4799635 and the source code was copyrighted; only Nintendocould produce the authorization chips. The patent covering the 10NES expired on January 24, 2006, although the copyright is still in effect.
Various companies found ways to bypass the authorization chip:
* Most unlicensed companies created circuits that used a
voltage spiketo knock the authentication unit in the NES offline.
* A few unlicensed games released in Europe and Australia (such as HES games) came in the form of a
donglethat would be connected to a licensed cartridge, in order to use that cartridge’s 10NES lockout chip for authentication.
* Tengen (
Atari’s NES games subsidiary) took a different tactic: the corporation obtained a description of the code in the lockout chip from the United States Copyright Officeby falsely claiming that it was required to defend against present infringement claims in a legal case. Tengen then used these documents to design their "Rabbit" chip, which duplicated the function of the 10NES. Nintendo sued Tengen for these actions. The court found that Tengen did not violate the copyright for copying the portion of code necessary to defeat the protection with current NES consoles, but did violate the copyright for copying portions of the code not being used in the communication between the chip and console. Tengen had copied this code in its entirety because future console releases could have been engineered to pick up the discrepancy. On the initial claim, the court sided with Nintendo on the issue of patent infringement, but noted that Nintendo’s patent would likely be deemed obvious as it was basically US patent|4736419 with the addition of a reset pin, which was at the time already commonplace in the world of electronics. Therefore, while Nintendo was the winner of the initial trial, before they could actually enforce the ruling they would need to have the patent hold up under scrutiny, as well as address Tengen’s antitrust claims. Before this occurred, the sides settled.
The above course of events is disputed by
Ed Loggin an [http://www.atarihq.com/tsr/special/el/el.html interview] by Atari historian 'tsr':
:Ed Logg: ...Unfortunately there was a fiasco; one of our lawyers went to the patent office and actually sent a copy of the stuff [Nintendo's patents] to Atari. And whether or not we actually looked at it, we basically were tainted.
:tsr: Yeah, Game Over painted Tengen as basically stealing the patents for the lockout chip.
:EL: The trouble was it was already done before we saw it. We had already done the Rabbit chip long before we had seen it. So it's already done, and we see this and we're like "Oh shit". (laughs)
:tsr: So you know for a fact the Rabbit was 100% original?
:EL: Yeah. I walked into the lab and they were reverse engineering the chip, and I asked what they were doing and they said "Don't ask". (laughs) So I know the company was doing it, and I knew the people involved doing it.
* Kevin Horton. “ [http://www.tripoint.org/kevtris/mappers/lockout/ The Infamous Lockout Chip] .” Accessed on April 19, 2006.
* U.S. Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit. “ [http://digital-law-online.info/cases/24PQ2D1015.htm Atari Games Corp. v. Nintendo of America Inc.] .” [http://digital-law-online.info/ Digital Law Online] . Accessed on April 19, 2006.
* Patent Arcade “ [http://www.patentarcade.com/2005/08/case-atari-v-nintendo-nd-cal-1993-cp.html Case: Atari v. Nintendo (N.D. Cal. 1993) [C,P] Atari Games Corp. v. Nintendo of America, Inc. 30 U.S.P.Q.2d 1401 (N.D. Cal. 1993) (Atari II)] .” Accessed on July 12, 2006
* " [http://www.atarihq.com/tsr/special/el/el.html Ed Logg (Atari) interview] " discussing Tengen lock chip
* Nintendo patent for "determining authenticity of an external memory".
* Macronix patent for "game cartridge security circuit" that causes the Nintendo "game console to accept the cartridge".
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