Lawsuit Against Nintendo Over Joy-Con Controller Design Basics - The UpStream

Lawsuit Against Nintendo Over Joy-Con Controller Design Basics

posted Sunday Aug 13, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Lawsuit Against Nintendo Over Joy-Con Controller Design Basics

Patent law in the US is a mess, and it hasn't gotten better over the years. In fact, a few years ago, a patent reform bill made it worse, rather than better. A few months ago, the Supreme Court adjusted how suits are filed, but that was just a minor alteration. The real problem comes from the idea that, if an idea is truly unique, a company should be able to compete in the marketplace without the government's interference. As it works today, patent law is a system for government sanctioned monopoly.

This week's example of patent law being in trouble comes to us care of a company called Gamevice. The company registered a patent for a tablet with a removable controller ring, which was launched as the Wikipad. This Android-powered tablet was unsurprisingly not a commercial success, but the company retained the patent and has used it to file a suit against Nintendo, whose implementation of the concept has been wildly successful.

The suit alleges that, because the Nintendo Switch has removable controllers, that it violates Gamevice's patent. Of course, there are several problems with this theory. First, the Wikipad and Switch are not the only tablets to have removable controllers. In fact, we have an old mechanic's tablet, running Windows 95, with removable controls. Second, there are dozens of products that add removable controllers to existing devices. An April Fool's prank turned real turns a phone into a GameBoy - essentially making for removable controllers on a phone.

Not having a case does not preclude success in patent disputes, however. We all remember the case between Apple and Samsung, where Apple alleged that rounded corners on a smartphone was patented by Apple, even though they were not the first to do it and it is not a patentable feature. Other companies have sued for things that only marginally touch upon the wording of a patent in hopes of settling. On the other hand, the so-called "podcast patent" was recently defeated, despite very precise wording that described podcasting, all because the wording could also describe YouTube, Facebook, Netflix and almost every other video-delivery system.

There is no way to accurately predict how this case will go, but you can assume, even if they win the case, Gamevice will not get everything they want. It is incredibly unlikely that a court would prevent Nintendo from selling the Switch in the US, but instead would likely force a licensing deal - assuming the patent is not nullified altogether.


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