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For years, Nintendo has continually shut down suggestions that they license their games out to mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. Investors have repeatedly called on Nintendo boss Satoru Iwata to do so, and every time, he’s said that it’s just something the company won’t do. However, a new patent filing published late last week could signify that this policy is coming to an end – or that Nintendo likes to make sure it covers its bases when it comes to piracy.

The filing was spotted last week by the folks on the NeoGAF message board, and it offers an interesting insight into the possible plans Nintendo might have for a portion of its huge back catalog of hit games. Filed just this past summer, the filing covers emulation of games for Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance on devices that can be classified as a “low-capability target platform.” That apparently includes seat-back displays on airplanes or trains, as well as the more potentially exciting PDAs and cell phones.

It should be noted, of course, that Nintendo has been offering legal emulation of its older software on new platforms for years in the form of the Wii and Wii U’s eShop. And before then, consumers could play Game Boy Advance games on the Gamecube, and even earlier than that, they could use the Super Game Boy to bring handheld titles to the TV via their Super Nintendo consoles. Additionally, Nintendo has licensed the use of some of its games out to airlines and hotels in the past. All of those scenarios have been tightly controlled by Nintendo, however.

The threat of bringing emulated games to smartphones – even through official licensing – is that it will diminish the one advantage that Nintendo has in the world of video games, and that’s the exclusive rights to Nintendo games. If you can suddenly download Super Mario World for your iPhone, sure, Nintendo will earn a few pennies for each of the millions of sales on iTunes. But it earns much, much more when consumers buy a digital copy for their Wii U. Holding onto the only platforms where these games can legally be purchased and played keeps Nintendo relevant.

As to why it would file a patent for a technology it has no intention of using – i.e., emulating these games on cell phones – it’s likely to keep a strong position if it needs to litigate against those who would provide emulation software without its consent. There’s plenty of that to go around, and as devices get more powerful and more pervasive, that threat grows every day.

I hope I’m wrong, and that Nintendo’s patent filing is a precursor to the release of an official iOS and Android Game Boy Advance app. But I’m not going to hold my breath.

[Source: USTPO via NeoGAF]

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