As the sex toy industry enters the digital age, it may find itself the focus of a notorious group of trolls – the patent trolls.
We’ve all heard of patent trolls. They are essentially one of the more seedy business models, with a business ethic that consists of nothing more than stalling progress in the name of free profit. Patent trolls are nothing new, cropping up in news stories every so often to remind us why the system needs reform. Recently, big hitters such as Samsung, Apple and an entire host of smaller businesses have found themselves on the receiving end of a troll who claimed to own the rights to often very specific technologies that comprise their systems. As a business grows, its likelihood of being hit by such lawsuits only increase and the same can be said for emerging industries. One such industry that is now finding itself a target is one we hold most dear to our hearts – sex toys. As technology has taken huge leaps forward, we have gained amazing new products such as VR and haptic-feedback toys that combine to make the waifu age a reality. Unfortunately as with anything, once a product hits the mainstream it falls into the greedy, prying eyes of patent trolls.
The patent troll in question this time around is Tzu Technologies LLC, a group so dedicated to their endeavours that researching them only turns up pending lawsuits they have filed. Their current patent that has crept out of the woodwork is one that was filed in 1998, long before the first digital sex toy was truly a reality. The patent was originally filed by a US company, HASSEX, and is their sole claim to fame. Even their own website notes they are the holder of this patent, and sits prominently on the single page of their barren website. Patent US 6368268 B1, as defined by its abstract at the patent office, is “an interactive virtual sexual stimulation system” that comprises of transmitters, computers, a video camera and all manner of non-sexy sounding devices. In fact, the patent images show something more akin to a network diagram for a B-movie supercomputer than anything that resembles a sex toy. The aim of the device is to give a user interactive control of the toy where they can stimulate another over the internet – something which has been around for quite some time already.
Would you stick it in this?
As of this year, HASSEX sold its single patent to Tzu Technologies, who immediately made plans to file suit against a total of 11 defendants. The largest of these defendants, and also the strangest, is Kickstarter. Yes, Kickstarter itself has been dragged into this lawsuit, even though it does not sell or use the patent in question. The thought process behind this, other than a larger payout, is that Kickstarter facilitates advertising and the sale of these devices, and as such is liable by proxy. The other entities involved in this are smaller startup companies such as Comingle LLC, creators of the open-source DIY dildo, Holland Haptics BV, creator of the Frebble which allows you to remotely squeeze others, and Vibease, a wearable smart vibrator. The plaintiff states that each of these companies, Kickstarter included, wilfully ignored the patent and have proceeded to create these products regardless. This is of course, unlikely, particularly with the current move towards an “internet of things”, where companies are attempting to give practically everything Wi-Fi. Sex toys usually forge the path with these new technologies, and this could really have a wider impact for the future should the verdict find in favour of the trolls.
As patent trolls do not generally manufacture the products they claim ownership of (and never will), this is no more than a question of money for the company. According to Reuters, however, patent trolls, at least in the tech sector, are currently finding it more and more difficult to succeed. With recent reviews of US law, and future reviews looking even more likely, patent trolls may soon find themselves out of business. Large companies such as NetApp in Silicon Valley have used this to their advantage, and forced a troll to pay their legal costs after the judge deemed it a “reckless and wasteful” use of court resources. It should come as no surprise then, that the majority of the defendants against Tzu are small businesses who probably don’t have the capacity to fight large scale battles. Indeed, according to the original holder of the patent’s website, some such companies have already “partnered” and caved to pressure in a bid to avoid further costs.
Like a Wii nunchuck, but for your butt.
What this means for the future is unclear. I’m no patent expert, but I can only imagine as the industry of virtual sex grows, so will the number of patent trolls claiming they were the ones to envision an orgy with their waifu. As it stands the lawsuit is fairly recent, so no real news has sprung up other than that it exists. It will be interesting to see how this proceeds, with particular regards to Kickstarter, who don’t really have much to do with it other than being a “source” of funding. As always, however, one thing is for certain. In a world where increasing emphasis is being placed on enforcing intellectual properties (looking at you TTP), the age of open-source sex toys may not be as smooth a ride as we might hope. You may just need to stick with your dakimakura for now.