With the growing popularity of video game systems such as Nintendo's Wii, Sony's Playstation 3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360, it seems that all sorts of patent holders are coming out of the woodwork to share in a piece of the profit pie. In what is undoubtedly another case of unwanted attention, Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft have been sued by Eleven Engineering, Inc. ("Eleven Engineering") in the District of Delaware for allegedly infringing three patents: U.S. Patent Nos. 6,238,289 ('289 Patent), 6,346,047 ('047 Patent) and 6,684,062 ('062 Patent). Each of the patents pertains to wireless game control devices. Eleven Engineering's complaint specifically identifies Sony's DualShock and Sixaxis wireless game controllers, Nintendo's Wii Remote and Balance Board and Microsoft's Xbox 360 Wireless Controller and Wireless Racing Wheel as allegedly infringing products.
'289 Patent - "RADIO FREQUENCY GAME CONTROLLER"
The '289 Patent is directed to adjusting a frequency of a wireless controller when weakness in signal strength is detected. One or more of the keys on the controller may further be used to manually change the frequency. Additionally, the game controller may include an indicator light that conveys signal strength by amount of time it is on (e.g., a constant "on" light would indicate strong signal strength whereas an intermittent light would indicate a weaker signal strength). Claim 1 is reproduced below as an illustrative example of the ‘289 Patent’s scope:
1. A game controller for communication between a user and an electronic game device transmitting signals to a receiver, comprising:
a portable housing; game controller keys attached to said housing for permitting the user to generate signals;
a radio frequency sender engaged with said game controller keys for transmitting the signals to the receiver; and
a controller attached to said sender for determining a selected parameter regarding the signals and for communicating said parameter to the user.
A point of contention between the parties may involve whether any of the accused controllers communicates a signal parameter to the user. Note that the claim does not require the controller to specifically include an indicator light.
'047 Patent - "RADIO FREQUENCY GAME CONTROLLER"
The '047 is similarly directed to radio frequency communication between a game controller and a game console device. In contrast to the '289 Patent, the claims of the '047 Patent are directed to the transmission of radio frequency signals from a game controller using time domain multiplexed transmissions. Thus, whether Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft infringe the ‘047 Patent may include a determination of whether their wireless controllers use time domain multiplexing transmission protocols. Claim 1 is reproduced below for reference.
1. A game controller system communicating between a user and an electronic game device, comprising:
a portable housing;
a sensor attached to said housing and responsive to operation by the user to generate signals;
a radio frequency sender engaged with said sensor, wherein said sender transmits said signals with time domain multiplexed transmission; and
a radio frequency receiver engaged with the electronic game device for receiving the signals from said radio frequency sender.
‘062 Patent – “WIRELESS GAME CONTROL SYSTEM”
The ‘062 Patent is generally directed to a wireless system for video game control that allows one or more wireless controller to concurrently communicate with a base transceiver. The benefits touted by the ‘062 patent include advantages in the areas of latency, reliability, power consumption and cross platform compatibility. The ‘062 Patent includes 2 independent claims. Independent claim 1 is directed to a combination of features including automatic channel/frequency adjustment and signal transmission using synchronous time domain multiplexing. Independent claim 13, on the other hand, is directed to controller-base transceiver compatibility and suggests a system that offers compatibility amongst multiple types of controllers and base transceivers. The issues surrounding the ‘062 Patent are likely to be more complex and infringement harder to demonstrate than for the other two asserted patents.
It is no secret that Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony have seen their fair share of gaming technology lawsuits in the past several years. For example, both Microsoft and Sony were sued by, and ultimately settled with, Immersion Corp. for use of force feedback technology in their controllers, while Nintendo entered into an out-of-court settlement with Hillcrest Laboratories for its motion sensing controllers earlier this year. Given Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony’s history of IP troubles involving its controllers and video game systems in general, it will be interesting to see whether the parties settle or decide to go the distance.
The case is Eleven Engineering, Inc. et al. v. Nintendo Co., Ltd. et al., Case No. 1:09-cv-00903-UNA (D. Del. filed Nov. 25, 2009). This is more of a hardware case, so we are not actively tracking it further.