Philips Files Suit Against Nintendo for Patent Infringement

Philips Files Suit Against Nintendo for Patent Infringement

The company is seeking to get the Wii and Wii U removed from sale.

Philips, the company whose last foray into the gaming market was the ill-fated CD-i, has filed a lawsuit against Nintendo for patent infringement.

The suit makes two assertions: firstly, that Nintendo has infringed on Philips' filed-in-1996, published-in-2001 patent for "interactive virtual modeling products" -- motion controls that allow an on-screen avatar to mimic the movements of the user -- and secondly, that Nintendo has infringed on Philips' patents for human-computer interaction systems that make use of a pointer or camera, originally filed in 2009 and published in 2013. The astute among you will notice that the filing date of this latter patent is some three years after the Wii's 2006 release.

Philips is seeking a trial by jury to "enjoin" (legalese for "forbid") Nintendo and Nintendo of America from "making, using, selling, offering for sale, and importing within the United States" any products which allegedly infringe the patents in question. These products, according to Philips, include the "Wii console, Wii Remote Plus Controller, Wii Remote Controller, Wii Nunchuk Controller, Wii MotionPlus, Wii Balance Board, Wii U console, Wii U GamePad, and Wii Mini." The company is also seeking damages.

Philips claims the Wii, Wii U and its various motion controllers (including the GamePad) all infringe on its patents.

Philips and Nintendo have had something of a rocky relationship over the years. After negotiations with Sony to create a CD-ROM addon for the Super NES led to conflict over licensing agreements, Nintendo quietly arranged a more favorable agreement with Philips, then a big rival to Sony. In an embarrassing situation for everyone involved, Sony revealed its SNES-compatible "Play Station" [sic] device at the 1991 Consumer Electronics Show, only to be countered by Nintendo announcing its partnership with Philips the very next day. Sparks flew, as you might expect, and the original incarnation of the Play Station never made it to market; it would be the next generation of consoles before Sony would drop the space and bring the world one of the most recognizable brands in gaming today.

Meanwhile, Nintendo and Philips' attempts to bring CD-ROM to the Super NES never came to fruition, either; instead, Philips released the overpriced and commercially unsuccessful CD-i in an attempt to bring CD-ROM into the living room, and the remnants of the companies' agreement, now mostly in tatters, meant that Philips had the opportunity to make use of Nintendo characters for a few games. The result was three of the most notoriously awful Zelda games ever made (Faces of Evil, Wand of Gamelon and Zelda's Adventure), plus an equally dreadful Mario title (Hotel Mario). Nintendo's prior desire to maintain tight control over its intellectual property and proprietary formats, it seems, was somewhat vindicated.

Philips hasn't been directly involved in gaming systems since that time, but it played a key role in the development of CD, DVD and Blu-Ray disc technology, all of which have been extremely important to the continued development of games machines over the years -- though interestingly Nintendo has continually resisted using these otherwise widespread technologies over the years, instead preferring cartridges for the N64 and proprietary optical discs developed by Panasonic for the GameCube, Wii and Wii U. As a company, Philips' consumer electronics division has most recently been focusing on non-gaming applications ranging from new TV formats to personal massagers, so it's a little surprising to see them caring about what Nintendo's up to. The other parts of Philips work on lighting and medical technology; the former is obviously irrelevant to this situation, but it's possible the latter could have had an interest in motion-controlled systems for simulation, imaging or remote control of equipment. Even so, healthcare technology and video games are two very different markets.

Never forget. Nintendo certainly didn't.

Philips acknowledges that Nintendo has been making "interactive virtual modeling products" and "human-computer interaction systems" for some years now, and claims that it previously sent the company notice of its infringement on both patents back in 2011.

It's interesting that the first part of the lawsuit, which looks at various implementations of motion controls and how they can be reflected in the movements of an on-screen avatar, has not gone after Kinect and PlayStation Move as well as Nintendo, since both of these devices also incorporate features described in the patent document. It's possible that this lawsuit is being used as a "test case" to see how firm the legal ground Philips is standing on is, but this is conjecture at present. Both Philips and Nintendo undoubtedly have the resources to fight a protracted legal battle over this case, but it remains to be seen if it actually comes to anything, or if it is just another example of the growing trend of modern tech companies repeatedly playing lawsuit tennis with various patent documents.

You can read the full lawsuit filing here.

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