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New lawsuit targets Steam, alleges patent infringement

Spectators watch a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive esports event on the big screen. AP Photo/David Goldman

One of the world's oldest telecommunications companies is suing Valve over Steam.

British Telecommunications has filed a federal lawsuit against Valve, alleging that the game developer infringed several patents via its popular Steam marketplace and distribution platform. In a 111 page court document obtained by ESPN, plaintiff British Telecom (BT) specifically pinpoints Steam's storage of third-party video games as well as certain broadcasting, chat, and messaging features.

"Despite BT's repeated attempts to reach an amicable resolution with Valve, and BT's numerous requests that Valve stop infringing the [patents], Valve has continued to infringe willfully and wantonly," alleged British Telecom lawyers in the complaint.

The lawsuit, filed in Delaware federal court, targets the heart of how consumers play, watch, interact, and purchase esports. At any given time, millions of gamers are online via Valve's Steam interface.

"Valve's internet-based digital distribution platform for video games, Steam, is the largest in the world and supports thousands of games, some of which have been developed by Valve itself and some of which have been developed by others," wrote lawyers for British Telecom.

Valve's Steam Library, Steam Chat, Steam Messaging, and Steam Broadcasting are all specifically mentioned in the complaint.

The four patents at issue in the legal filing -- denoted by the lead inventor's last name -- are included as attachments. Inventors obtain patents as a way to legally protect their work from being copied by others without permission. Patent violations can result in monetary damages and court-ordered injunctions preventing further infringement.

"BT brings this action to recover the just compensation it is owed for Valve's past infringement, and to prevent Valve from continuing to benefit from the patented inventions in the future without authorization or compensation to BT," explained British Telecom lawyers.

Screenshots featuring Valve's Counter-Strike: Global Offensive game, as well as other titles, are included prominently in the complaint.

The British Telecom lawsuit does not address any possible gambling-related aspect of Steam, but comes amidst an unrelated lawsuit alleging that Valve facilitated skins betting on various third-party websites. The skins wagering case is in its early stages.

British Telecom is represented by powerful New York City law firm Proskauer Rose. Valve has yet to formally reply to the complaint. None of the allegations in the new British Telecom lawsuit have yet been considered by a judge or a jury.

Messages seeking comment from Valve and British Telecom representatives were not immediately returned.