Patent Troll Vs. Everyone: Teledildonics Patent Lawsuit
OH HOLY FUCKING SHIT.
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
- Kiiroo, Makers of the Onyx and Pearl toys and GOD SOMEONE PLEASE STOP THEIR FUCKING MARKETING DEPARTMENT
It seems that HasSex has passed the patent to TZU as of 2 months ago. TZU is suing the following 7 companies:
- Kickstarter, Yes, FUCKING KICKSTARTER
- Comingle, Makers of the crowdfunded The Mod arduino vibrator
- Holland Haptics, Makers of the Freeble remote hand-holding device
- Vibease, Makers of the vibease bluetooth controlled toy
- Winzz, LLC, Makers of the LovePalz teledildonics toy
- Frixion (listed as Seth Van Het Kaar/John Mason/Happy Haptics), AKA Frixion, Makers of the Novint Falcon based Frixion toy and teledildonics cross-platform software. This is odd since Frixion seemed to believe they were a safe haven from this sort of suit
- Internet Services, LLC and WMM Holdings, two of the companies behind the The Real Touch toy that has already had patent problems, multiple times even
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.