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The Ten Most Important Video Game Patents


January 19, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 6 Next
 

8. The One That Makes a Fortune 500 Company Blink

Patents provide a “limited” monopoly to their owners, i.e., while a patent does not guarantee that the patentee itself can commercialize the invention, the patentee can stop others (i.e., infringers) from commercializing the invention, regardless of who that infringer is.3

It doesn’t matter whether the infringer is an individual, a small business, or a Fortune 500 company with enough money to try to litigate the inventor into bankruptcy. A good patent is mightier than the largest coffers, and in true David versus Goliath fashion, Sony learned that the hard way.

Immersion Corporation owns various patents for haptic feedback technologies, including U.S. Patent 6,275,213 and U.S. Patent 6,424,333 covering vibration feedback in video game controllers. In February 2002, Immersion sued Sony and Microsoft for patent infringement of both patents because the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox both include vibration feedback in their respective controllers.4 Microsoft settled with Immersion in July 2003,5 and continues to include haptic (vibration) feedback in its controllers to this day.

The Goliath that is Sony instead chose to continue litigation...to no avail. In March 2005 Sony was hit with a $90.7M judgment and a permanent injunction against the manufacture, use, sale, or import into the United States of the infringing Sony PlayStation system including PlayStation consoles, Dual Shock controllers, and the forty-seven games found by the jury to infringe Immersion's patents.6


From U.S. Patent 6,424,333

While Sony could begrudgingly pay the judgment, given the PlayStation’s prominence in Sony’s marketing and business efforts, the injunction is no laughing matter. The injunction was stayed pending appeal of the decision to the United States Federal Circuit, which hears all patent appeals. The oral arguments were heard October 3, 2006, and January 8, 2007; however, as of the date of this article, no decision has been issued.

Regardless of the final outcome of this case, Sony decided not to include vibration feedback in its controllers for the PlayStation 3 due to alleged incompatibilities between force feedback and the motion sensing technology used. However, given the still pending threat of a permanent injunction from the Immersion lawsuit, and a YouTube video questioning the basis of Sony’s statement,7 the Immersion patents are proof that a good patent can alter the course of business of even the largest competitor, and have earned a spot on the list.

7. The One You Can’t Live Without

When a technology comes along that consumers instantly respond to, everyone begins to take that technology for granted. If someone has a patent on that technology, or just a patent on some aspect of it, that someone is going to have an important patent.


From U.S. Patent 6,280,327

As an example, consider the wireless game controller. All three of the next-generation consoles (Xbox360, PS3 and Wii) offer wireless handheld controls, and from personal experience, we swear by the convenience and flexibility that the wireless control offers. U.S. Patent no. 6,280,327 is entitled “Wireless Game Control Units,” and has recently been in suit between its owner, Freedom Wave LLC, and Mad Catz Inc.

The patent deals with two features:

  1. A sleep function to turn off a game controller after going unused for an amount of time, and
  2. An “auto” function that sends game input signals at a continuous pace.

According to the patent, prior art game controls would have their sleep function interrupted by the automatic signals from the “auto” mode, so if users stopped playing while the “auto” function was turned on, the controller’s sleep function would never kick in (it kept sending the signals, so it thought it was constantly in use). The patent claims a system that separates the sleep function from the “auto” function, so that the controller can go to sleep even if the “auto” function was turned on.

Another Freedom Wave patent, U.S. Patent No. 6,878,066, is related to the ‘327 patent described above, and also relates to “Wireless Game Control Units.” This one, however, deals with an adapter that can plug into a console’s controller port to allow that port to work with a wireless controller.

Freedom Wave asserted both of these patents against controller maker Mad Catz Inc. in 20058. That case was dismissed in early 2006 by agreement of the parties, but the parties have continued their dispute in a new suit filed in late 20069.

3. Except the U.S. government, but that is beyond the province of this article.

4. http://immr.client.shareholder.com/ReleaseDetail.cfm?ReleaseID=111788.

5. http://immr.client.shareholder.com/ReleaseDetail.cfm?ReleaseID=114868.

6. Immersion Corp. v. Sony Computer Entm’t Am., Inc., 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4781.

7. YouTube video demonstrates that force feedback and motion sensing technology can work together. http://www.ps3fanboy.com/2006/06/26/the-truth-will-set-you-free-old-vibes-and-new-tech/.

8. Freedom Wave LLC v. Mad Catz Inc. et al., CV 2:05-cv-02954 (C.D. Cal. 2005)

9. Freedom Wave LLC v. Mad Catz Inc. et al., CV 2:06-cv-07209 (C.D. Cal. filed Nov. 9, 2006)


Article Start Previous Page 3 of 6 Next

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