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Input Devices Nintendo Patents Wii Games

Nintendo Faces Patent Suit Over the Wii 91

Posted by Soulskill
from the to-the-rocket-docket dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A company named Thinkoptics has filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Nintendo over the motion controller used with the Wii. Apparently they make a similar product named the Wavit Remote, and they've been granted patents describing its operation. 'And they've chosen the setting most likely to yield a win: the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Texas. Now, that's not to say that Wavit-maker Thinkoptics will get a win, but this particular court circuit tends to favor the patent holder over all else. The patent in question, U.S. Patent Number 7,796,116, is titled "Electronic equipment for handheld vision based absolute pointing system." Thinkoptics' primary argument in the case is that Nintendo had previous knowledge that the Wii would infringe based on the Trademark Office's rejection of certain claims in Nintendo-filed patents.'"
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Nintendo Faces Patent Suit Over the Wii

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  • Congratulations.

    They invented the cordless mouse.

    Apparently. Can't see this one standing up against Nintendo's lawyers.

    • No, they invented a device that's very much like the Wii-mote, a year and a half before the Wii came out. Try clicking on the link to the patent in TFS [google.com] for a nice picture.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        As I recall, the Power Glove was capable of using a system similar to the wii-mote, placing IR points at three corners of the TV screen, then working out what you were pointing at from that.

        My guess is that this company heard something about a sensor Nintendo was putting together, extrapolated the (technically obvious) pointer-based control method, and then threw together a patent application as fast as they could to get something into the pipeline before Nintendo started making public announcements.

        I base

      • Whoops, guess they should have defended their patent a little sooner, eh? It HAS been 4 years now.

        • The patent was filed before anyone knew about the Wii's motion controls, but it was only granted a year ago. They probably tried to get Nintendo to license their patent before going this route.

      • by iamhassi (659463)

        No, they invented a device that's very much like the Wii-mote, a year and a half before the Wii came out. Try clicking on the link to the patent in TFS [google.com] for a nice picture.

        They filed July 2005. Wii came out November 2006. Yes, almost a year and a half, but many people knew the next console would use IR to determine screen position. Also light guns have been using IR to determine screen position for many years. [wikipedia.org]

        Also the summary is horribly vague:
        "SUMMARY
        An item of electronic equipment is described that includes a machine and executable program code. The executable program code is stored on a non volatile memory. The executable program code is to be executed by the machi

    • Actually, look at that patent and the drawing. Remind anyone of the Power Glove? Sensor on the top of the TV, and one on the side of the TV.... Detects as the device moves up/down/left/right.... Sure the Power Glove wasn't completely wireless, but the concept on how it's movements were tracked certainly were.
  • by somersault (912633) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @08:30AM (#37338666) Homepage Journal

    The Wii came out in November 2006, their patent was filed in July 2005. The design of their system isn't as elegant as the Wii's (then again, it's probably more accurate), but at least they're not trolling..

    • by pecosdave (536896) *

      Why did they wait so long instead of filing the day the Wii was introduced? Now it's within a year or so of being superseded by the Wii U. Seems to me if they really wanted to protect their patent they would have done it the day the thing was released, by waiting until near the end of this particular product cycle they're vampiring off of success.

      Still trolling.

      • by aliquis (678370)

        Why did they wait so long instead of filing the day the Wii was introduced?

        Maybe they were busy playing Zelda?

      • by Aladrin (926209) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @08:49AM (#37338830)

        They filed in July 2005. It was apparently granted in Sep, 2010. So they only waited a year, not 5 years. And they may have waited the year because they were getting their ducks in a row, negotiating with Nintendo, or other reasons.

        I'm not saying they aren't trolling... I'm saying they may have their reasons. We don't know.

        • They had all that time to bring the issue up with Nintendo.

          They're trolls. And useless.

          • by kj_kabaje (1241696) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @09:28AM (#37339230)
            How do you know they did not try to address this with Nintendo?  Regardless of how you feel about patents, do you think Nintendo has a reason to be nice to someone who quite possibly patented something but is not an MNC?  There's a pretty large difference in power/capital of the companies involved I'd wager.
          • by boarder (41071)

            This just in: some companies have large capital reserves and would rather duel lawyer v lawyer in court than cede negotiations to a much smaller company.

            You have no idea what went on during those 5 years. Maybe they had been doing everything they possibly could to get Nintendo to license the patents. Maybe they were trying to get Nintendo to contract them to develop new hardware and technologies for the next gen system in exchange for free licensing of the patents.

            You have absolutely zero knowledge, yet y

      • by erroneus (253617)

        They may have been in negotiations with Nintendo on the issue for all this time... possibly even given promises that never came to be.... or maybe they simply didn't notice for some reason and assumed the Wiimote was using different technology until someone called it to their attention?

        But the fact that the USPTO did their job by rejecting Nintendo's patent application citing this previous invention is indication that someone is/was doing their job. What's wrong, however, is that Nintendo was aware of the

        • by ray-auch (454705)

          How can you (or why would you) license a patent that isn't granted yet (and might never be granted) ?

          • by msauve (701917)
            How: Provisionally. e.g. "We'll agree to pay you $x for licensing, if and when you actually get a patent." or "We'll pay you $y for licensing, whether or not the patent is ever issued." Where: x is less than what would be paid after the patent was issued, and y is less than x.

            Why: Nintendo obviously though the concept was new and patentable - that's why their application conflicted.
        • That's the trouble with tribbles, they're terrible.
        • by reg106 (256893)
          The patent application didn't publish until Jul 13, 2006, four months before the release of the Wii to the public on Nov. 19, 2006. Nintendo would not have known about the patent application until after the publish date. (The original filing date is for the provisional patent, which is secret). The design of the Wii controller would have been locked down long before that, because developers need to have games ready at launch. According to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org], Nintendo settled on the controller design in 2005, tho
          • by KDR_11k (778916)

            The Wii was first revealed at the E3 2005 so they may have had the research done at that point already.

        • by Sylak (1611137)
          As other posts have pointed out, the Wiimote uses a different method with the same technology (Horizontal clusters placed at top or bottom of the screen, as opposed to a top and side cluster), and the patent covers the method not the technology (which i believe predates both)
        • by Belial6 (794905)
          There is no way that they didn't notice the Wiimote. That's a little like saying you've never heard of McDonald's. Just 'assuming that the Wiimote was using different technology' seems pretty unlikely as well, since Thinkoptics obviously has some idea about how that type of device would be made, and thus have a pretty good clue that the device works similarly. The way the Wiimote works has also been pretty heavily analyzed and reported on.
      • Filed != granted. The patent was granted only in Sept 14, 2010. Now they did wait almost a year before filing a lawsuit which is not immediate but not long enough for Nintendo to claim laches.
        • I know, but if they filed the design a couple of years after the Wii came out for example, I'd say they were just trolling. Filing an actual design 1.5 years before the Wii came out gives them some credibility in my book.

          • by tepples (727027)

            Filing an actual design 1.5 years before the Wii came out gives them some credibility in my book.

            Do you know what else happened 1.5 years before the Wii came out? E3 2005, when Nintendo demonstrated to the video game industry what would later come to be called the Wii Remote.

      • Because their patent hadn't been granted yet. You can't sue when you file a patent, only once it's been issued. You're the one who is trolling.
    • by Shados (741919)

      July 2005? Wasn't E3 2005, when Nintendo announced the Wii, around May? Did they show the controller at E3?

      • by Denogh (2024280)

        July 2005? Wasn't E3 2005, when Nintendo announced the Wii, around May? Did they show the controller at E3?

        No. The Wii-Remote was first shown the Tokyo Game Show in September 2005. It was apparently too buggy to display at E3.

        I do recall reading some speculation about Nintendo's new controller as far back as early 2004, but I don't think it had taken this shape in the media's mind yet. I think this is a case of convergent evolution with one party trying to cash in on the similarities.

      • According to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org], they kept the motion controllers a secret until the later 2005 Tokyo Game Show though.

    • by jader3rd (2222716)
      Even if the Wii came out in 2006 it was under development for way longer than just 15 months. There had to have been some working prototypes in Nintendo by July 2005.
      • I wasn't trying to say that there won't be prior art or anything - just that they don't seem to have filed this patent with the intention of trolling Nintendo.

      • Right. And these guys were also inventing their device before their file date. Remember, the US has a "first to invent" system, not a "first to file" system. This makes priority a difficult thing to determine, but both parties undoubtedly have notebooks dating back to well before July 2005. I haven't seen the file wrapper, but there may have even been interference proceedings associated with this patent.
    • The Wii was released on November 19th and it was revealed on May 15th 2005 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4557443.stm [bbc.co.uk] so Nintendo had this in the pipeline for awhile and this is partially what's wrong with patents. They both hard the same idea roughly at the same time and neither one should have to pay the other just because they got to a patent office first.
  • I think THIS court as well as quite a few others within a couple of hundred mile radius need investigation for corruption, both of the most obvious kind and corruption of bias.

    The fact this particular court is so tempting for so many big cases of this sort pretty much proves there's a problem. Nobody who can chose their own court files in the most neutral fair court they can find.

  • Why did it take over five years for the patent office to issue the patent? What was Nintendo supposed to do? Wait on their groundbreaking product for an extra four years after completion? Either way, the process is ridiculous and serves no one but the lawyers, and clogs up our legal system.
    • Well Thinktopic's argument was Nintendo should have known when their own application was rejected by the PTO. Normally the PTO will reject a patent application because there are pending or current other applications. Of course this is what Thinktopic claims. I don't have any details further than that.
      • I'm still trying to suss this logic:

        You, Nintendo were rejected a patent. We, Thinkoptic, got a very similar patent. Because we somehow bribed or bullied our way into success, we're the rightful owners of this intellectual property.

        It's total bullshit. I think it's funny that someone is trying to control an international corporation from the fetid bowels of a corrupt Texas courtroom. Good luck with that, guys.

        • I don't know what were in the details of the rejection from the USPTO but if they listed Thinktopic's patent in their rejection, that would at least strengthen Thinktopic's case that Nintendo knew they could be infringing. It also matters when Nintendo filed and were rejected. If they were rejected years ago that is different than if they were rejected shortly before the USPTO granted it to Thinktopic.
    • You can find out for yourself by viewing the file wrapper at the USPTO's website [uspto.gov], but to summarize:

      It took just over 3 years before the first office action in the case was sent to the applicant. Unfortunately, this delay is currently pretty close to average for applications in this technology area. After that, the applicant had to amend the claims four times to get the application into condition for allowance, which resulted in the additional two years of delay.

      Note, however, that the application was publ

  • Basically patent holders should be required to sue either in a location in which the infringer has business or in a location in which the patent holder has business.

    Then when lots of patent holders (especially trolls) set up offices in east texas, the Texas State government can increase corporate taxes (which would be popular with the locals if it hits the big boys and not the little guys)

  • Does this mean they're going to be taking on Namco too? The Guncon3 controllers also use a similar system to the Wii. Now the other thing to consider here it that even though the Wii came out in 2006, it's quite likely that had a working prototype years before that.
  • If anyone bothered to read the patent, you'd notice one major difference: the patent is for an 'Absolute' pointing system, as in the cursor would be directly where the remote points (like a lightgun).

    The Wii uses a relative system, relative to the lights on the sensor bar. You often find the cursor is nowhere near where the remote points, specially near the edges of the screen. The only way to get the system to work as an 'Absolute pointing device' would be to have the exact size of display that the Wii is

    • by Shrike82 (1471633)
      Congratulations, you read the title of the patent and jumped on the word "absolute". Patents are actually about the Claims, and if you'd like to skip down to there you'll see that the WiiMote does appear to infringe on Claim 1, at least.
      • by Yamioni (2424602)
        That doesn't mean shit. You have to infringe on all of them. Look at number three:

        triggering action taken by said electronic equipment in response to said handheld device's sending of a signal to indicate said action is desired

        Sounds a hell of a lot like something a TV remote has been doing for decades. If you only had to infringe on one claim to be infringing on the entire patent then Thinktopic would have never been granted their patent in the first place.

        • by Shrike82 (1471633)
          The claim you quote is also sounding distinctly like the WiiMote. I assume they're fairly sure the WiiMote does infring upon all claims or they'll be wasting their time and money here eh?
    • by grumbel (592662)

      The Wiimote is an absolute pointing system, not a relative one. It is just a very bad absolute pointing system as it only has two dots for reference, not the three or four that it would need, and thus gets mis-calibrated the moment you move its position. Of course it also doesn't even allow real calibration to begin with, aside from the "Sensorbar above/below TV" setting (some games go a little further).

      Interestingly however the Wiimote actually can actually detect four dots, it's just that the sensorbar on

  • Didn't the power glove have the same basic concept as the Wiimote? It had 3 sensors you put around your TV. I'm guessing all they're going to have to do is show a short demonstration of Super Glove Ball to win, unless Nintendo messed up the patent process somewhere
    • by grumbel (592662)

      The power glove used ultrasonic transmitter, triangulation and the time it took the sound to reach the mic, the Wiimote works with LED lights and a camera. So it's not really the same. A much closer match are however lightguns, they have been around for ages and the later models, that worked with LCD TVs also used LED markers.

  • by rfolkker (443051) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @09:16AM (#37339104)

    This case would be a sad state of patent law if this company does win.
    While Nintendo may have been made aware of the patent when they applied for the trademark, they had already completed their development of the device before this had happened. This is not a unique situation, just rare. It would appear that the company that wrote the patent did it at the same time (or VERY close) to the announcement of the WiiMote. Which was announced 2 months after the patent was filed At the Tokyo Game Show(See: http://tgs.cesa.or.jp/2005/english/). So, considering the fact that the controller was announced, it would be a fair assumption that they did not start development on the controller within the 60 day window between a filing of a US patent, and announcing their product. Obviously Nintendo will have to prove that was infact the case, but having worked on a patent suit in the past, that part is the easy thing to prove. This whole Trademark red-herring will probably be more of an annoyance then anything.

    Also keep in mind, while the patent was filed in 2005, it wasn't published until 2006. There is no way that Nintendo could have known about this product via it's patent until they had completed their development, and started contracts for mass production for their November 2006 release. Considering the 3-5 year R&D cycle on these systems, the timeline with the patent don't line up for an infringement. However, it should give Nintendo an exception to the patent, while still allowing the company to hold it's patent (which may actually be the point of the suit, to prevent Nintendo from being identified as prior art).

    On a side note, Nintendo filed their patent in Japan one month before this other company did in the US.
    see: http://www19.ipdl.inpit.go.jp/PA1/cgi-bin/PA1DETAIL
    Publication name: 2006-331109
    Filing date: 26.05.2005
    Application Number: 2005-154233

    • by sjames (1099)

      I doubt it's that rare. There's a lot of ideas out there just waiting for one or two prerequisites to materialize so that they can be reduced to practice. It's hardly surprising that once the final prerequisite does hit the market that several people will immediately see the use and go on to invent the same thing in parallel having no knowledge of the others' work.

      The shame of the patent system is that at the same time it allows one person to see the sweat of his brow turn into a living, it steals the sweat

  • How is this going to hold up? Nintendo apparently revealed the Wiimote on 16th Sept. 2005 (http://www.kotaku.com.au/2011/01/the-manly-art-of-posing-with-video-game-systems/). So Nintendo must have had a working prototype way before the patent was applied for.
  • ...because (according to what I was told when I contacted Nintendo HQ regarding a research project that greatly benefited from using Wiimotes) they were not the ones who invented Wiimotes but rather licensed them from another manufacturer (as was the case with apparently a number of other controllers). I expect them to simply forward this inquiry to the company they licensed Wiimotes from and by doing so wash their hands clean in no time.
  • If you had invented the Wii remote, you would have invented the Wii remote.

    Interesting read.

  • Why now of all times, when Nintendo has already made most of the profit from the controllers and they're not sold as much anymore?

  • (Sorry, didn't realize I wasn't logged in the first time.)

    Anyone remember the game that was bundled with Super Mario Bros. and the original NES?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duck_Hunt [wikipedia.org]

    I would consider the "gun" controller a "handheld vision based absolute pointing system".

    (I haven't been modded up in years and I finally think I have a neat point - please mod up!)

  • Nintendo has too much money to lose this in court, they will probably just give half a million and be on their way, that's all they really want anyway

We want to create puppets that pull their own strings. - Ann Marion

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