Patent Troll Vs. Everyone: Teledildonics Patent Lawsuit




And I am not a lawyer in any way, shape, or form but damnit I'm gonna talk about it anyways.

TZU Technologies, LLC are suing multiple companies over Patent 6,368,268 B1, better known as "The teledildonics patent", "the Texas Billionaire patent", etc.

Those of you that keep up with this sort of thing may recognize the patent as the HasSex Inc patent, which was held by

  • VStroker, Makers of the fleshlight accelerometer attachment
  • OhMiBod, Makers of the OhMiBod bluetooth/audio toys
  • WeVibe, Makers of various toys.
  • Shockspot, Makers of the Shockspot Fucking Machine

It seems that HasSex has passed the patent to TZU as of 2 months ago. TZU is suing the following 7 companies:

The suit is for "Willingful Infringement", meaning that the Plantiff believes that the Defendants knew about the patent when making their products, and infringed on it anyways. For anyone who's tried to start a business and heard the "DON'T RESEARCH PATENTS" advice, "Willingful Infringement" is why. Assuming the defendants are found guilty, they are liable for trebel (3x) damages.

That means a shitload of money.

Right now, the case is super new. Like, filed this week new. This gives TZU around 4 months to notify the defendants (more for Holland Haptics, who are actually in the Netherlands so this goes by international treaty law), after which the defendants have 21 days to reply.

Judge S. James Otero of the Central California district (one of the popular districts for trying this kind of thing, alongside East Texas) has been assigned the case.

Whether this is an offensive move to clear the market of competing/non-licensing products, or just a shitty troll move, I don't know. It is possible that HasSex could've retained some licensing rights when reassigning the patent, but that is unknown since that documentation isn't public. It is certainly possible to sell a patent with the ability to license it back, but that is pure speculation for now. While there's constant talk of troll reform, it's failed pretty regularly.

One possible good outcome of this would be the establishment of prior art for teledildonics. Assuming a product created before August 1997 was found, the defendants could file an inter partes review to the patent office to possibly invalidate the patent (and basically 'pause' the case while the patent review happened), which would open the field to all sorts of new products. I've mentioned this in talks and articles since I started Metafetish, but we'd never really had a test case until now. And yes I am totally going to act like I wrote that inter partes sentence myself like I have any clue what I'm talking about.

Of course, that means the possible bad outcome for this is obliteration of the market except for the license holders.

I'll do my best to keep this site updated as information comes out.

Holy. Shitting. Fuck.

UPDATE: Ok, a quick update to my "No really I'm not a lawyer don't take me seriously" theory about why this is happening now versus any time since I started Metafetish/Slashdong. I don't want to have to repeat myself in email a bunch so I'm just adding to the article.

The patent in question was filed in August of 1998. That means we're creeping up on the 20 year deadline for patent expiration. Lawsuits are not super speedy things, especially considering this is a possibly international suit.

Suing Vibease, Frixion, Comingle, LovePalz, and Freeble means products could possibly be taken off the market, reducing competition, which would be a win for the prior patent holder, though that does once again speculate they have anything to do with this. The oddballs are Internet Services, WMM Holdings, and Kickstarter.

WMM Holdings, AKA Real Touch, already had to license some patents, because they had a product on the market for years that got yanked due to those patents no longer being offered for license. My guess is that patent license got taken back because of the Real Touch Interactive service conflicting with whatever that patent holder may've had planned otherwise. Why this current patent wasn't litigated until now seems weird.

Internet Services is, most likely, Immersion. That means tiny patent troll against medium-ish patent troll. Immersion isn't say, Intellectual Ventures, but they do own part of everything ever that vibrates due to another thing happening. They have money. I'm guessing they may be in the suit for hopes of getting a settlement instead of their case going to court. (Update 2015-07-23) Internet Services is actually one of the companies involved in the Real Touch. This is why I should actually research things. Thanks to Joe Mullin for writing an article on Ars Technica where research did happen.

Kickstarter? Not a fucking clue. The only reason I can guess they're here is the fact they ran the freeble crowdfunding campaign. However, if they're somehow liable for that (and that may be all they can be liable for, since they don't allow adult toys on their service), I don't see how Indiegogo isn't also liable for Comingle. I would also figure any crowdfunding company that's not stupid would have safeguards against patent infringement in products they've run campaigns for. I have no idea how these things work though, so I guess we'll find out.

Orgasmastronics Master Beta Arduino Kit on Indiegogo

Orgasmatronics is running a crowdfunding campaign for their new Arduino sex toy control kit, the Master Beta.

Master Beta Kit

After the wild success of their Ambrosia bionic vibe campaign (now also available on their website if you missed the initial run), it'll be fun to see how much they can raise for this far more open-ended project.

The Master Beta kit comes with an arduino, a bullet vibrator, and a knob for doing simple control experiments. However, with addons, it can control many other toys, including Orgasmatronics own X2 Gyrator.

So what are you waiting for? Go get your early bird kit today for only $69! The campaign is looking for $5000 overall, and is 20% of the way there as of this posting, which is hopefully a good sign.

The PussyMeHow Kit.E - A Fake Vibrator for Fake Cats

Yes. It's a (fake) vibrator for actual (fake) felines.

PussyMeHow Kit.e

Even though it, you know, looks like a (real) torture device.

Luckily, it's not an actual product. It was an April Fools Day joke by Badoink Magazine. However much I hate AFD and also the name "Badoink" (Why, yes, my high horse is quite high after dropping the name Slashdong), it's sex tech related, so, yeah, I'll post about it.

Apparently the (fake) inventor of the toy owns (fake) female cats, wanted to help them while they're in (fake) heat, without (fake) surgery, and now here we (fake) are. It even includes a (fake) vaping mechanism for putting off (fake) pheromones to get the (fake) cats in the (fake) mood. Can't say I would have thought of that, even for the (fake) joke.

Then there's the (fake) about page, with the title line:

Welcome to the ninth life of teledildonics and haptic technolgy

Control your (fake) lover's (fake) cat's (fake) sextoys over the (fake) internet. Nice to see mainstream sex tech magazines embracing zoophilia.

Their (fake) twitter account is terrifying.

So. That's a (fake) thing. Though honestly, I've seen enough (real) DIY projects over the years similar to this that I could see it being an actual thing (Yes, that is a cultural critique.). Not to mention, this isn't the first time we've seen sex toys for pets. Remember the (actually real) Hot Doll?

Child of Eden Almost had a Rez Trancevibrator of Its Own

Following up on the Rez Trancevibrator update yesterday, it turns out there was almost another Rez Trancevibrator! Sorta.

You see, when Rez was ported to XBox Live in 2008 (released as Rez HD), Wireless controllers were far more common. So, instead of making a new TranceVibrator, they allowed players to use the extra 3 available controllers as just vibrators.

Child Of Eden Screenshot

Fast forward to 2011. According to a Kotaku article from a demo held that year, the game Child of Eden was demoed with a peripheral similar to the Rez Trancevibrator. Child of Eden was set as a prequel to Rez, and utilized the Microsoft Kinect (and is still one of the few Kinect games I've heard positive reviews for that wasn't Dance Central). Since that meant all 4 controllers would be free while players flailed in front of their camera, the developers apparently made a belt to strap the controllers to. Players could then have a big, vibrating controller belt while they flailed. Yay.

Unfortunately I couldn't find any pictures of the belt, and it was not released with the game. As this blog is as much my notebook as it is for news, I figured I might as well add this, even though I'm 4 years late to the story.

Where Are They Now? - Rez TranceVibrator Edition

To kick off the "Moving all of my sex software repos to the Metafetish Github Org" article series, let's return to one of the first libraries I ever wrote for sex tech: libtrancevibe.

Rez TranceVibrator

For those not familiar with the TranceVibrator, I wrote a big article about it back in 2005. Since then, the device has seen a fair share of activity, including a DIY Version of the toy, being the basis for Second Life Teledildonics, and make twitter vibrate. In the past couple of years, the creator of the drmn trancevibe DIY toy even went back to find out there were LEDs originally planned but never filled in.

I was pretty fond of TranceVibrator, obviously. It was USB, and it vibrated, and that's about all I needed to get attention back then. Unfortunately, time has not treated libtrancevibe quite so well. The drivers started breaking on Vista, apparently worked on Windows 7, but are now completely broken on Windows 8 and above. I'm guessing this is due to the fact that most released drivers were written in 2006, based on libusb-0.1. We're now at libusb 1.0.19, so things are due for an upgrade.

But does anyone care?

After doing some research, the only still active users of the Rez TranceVibe are customers of the Second Life sex store Xcite!. The Xcite Touch! System, modeled on top of the work I did on SL Teledildonics, uses the TranceVibrator for real world vibration based on Second Life genital interaction.

I don't miss Second Life

I don't miss Second Life.

Anyways, it looks like they actually outsourced their own version of the hardware. The Harnett Technology Solutions USBMC-01 is basically a USB key with a small motor driver, into which you can plug any vibrator with the usual 2.5mm mono audio jack. As far as I can tell, this is on only product Harnett Technology Solutions sells, too.

Harnett USBMC-01

Taking a look inside their controller software, it looks like it's a java application built on top of the Drmn Trancevibe driver code. This would explain why it doesn't work on Windows 8.

Old drivers!

Even so, it looks like Xcite is still selling and using the interface. Once that goes away (though, as with many things involving Second Life, it may be oddly immortal), the advent of easier to build/control arduino toys and other products on the market may mean the end of the Rez TranceVibrator.

3 years ago, I filed a bug on my own project to bring libtrancevibe up to libusb-1.0, but it's gone nowhere.. If for some reason, anyone out there still has one and is interested in seeing that happen, please comment on the bug, or email the tips email at the bottom of this page. I kinda doubt I'll ever get around to it otherwise.