Patents over vague and seemingly-unoriginal intellectual property have been given out numerous times. In gaming, things like the dialog wheel in Mass Effect, and the sanity meter found in the game Eternal Darkness have received patents that force companies to go completely different routes to avoid infringement. Why these items are found to be worthy of patents have left both developers and gamers a bit confused, but perhaps the most odd patent of the last couple decades is expiring today.
Twenty years ago, Namco released Ridge Racer Revolution for the first Playstation console. The game suffered from long loading screens - so long that Namco decided players needed something to do during the down time. Namco decided to add its 1979 space arcade shooter "Galaxian" to Ridge Racer's loading screens and thought it prudent to request a patent for placing mini games in loading screens. The patent was granted and, for these past twenty years, mini games during loading screens have been almost non-existent.
Some games have attempted to sneak around the patent. Assassin's Creed would place the main character in an empty space to run around and perform simple actions to no end, during loading sequences. Because games are being installed directly to increasingly-fast storage drives, like the SSD/HDD hybrid found in the Xbox One Elite bundle that can reduce loading times by up to 20%, we may not see a big wave of loading screen mini games surface. In the event that they do, you'll at least know why the trend resurfaced.
via Ars Technica