Just as the games console which has the honor of being at once both one of the most innovative entertainment devices to arrive in our homes and the most stupidly named, the Nintendo Wii, arrives on the market so a lawsuit starts that attacks the very heart of that innovation: the remote control.
Interlink, a California based remote control manufacturer, alleges that Nintendo has violated its patent as far as the motion-sensitive technology within the Wiimote is concerned. Although the Wii was only released this week in the UK, being a tech journalist I naturally have been able to have a play with one long before now. The thing is, that motion-sensitive remote is what really makes the Wii such an entertaining piece of kit. Forget reading instructions and then remembering what key combos do what for every game, simply use the Wiimote as you would a tennis racquet, golf club, boxing glove and so on. It’s great fun, it’s dead simple to use and this means that Nintendo has produced a console that does, for once, truly appeal to all age groups. It has also, according to Interlink, infringed upon US Patent 6,850,221 B1 which covers a Trigger Operated Electronic Device and was filed back in 2005.
There is an online community in the UK called Cix where a certain acronym has been very popular over the years, and I am going to invoke it right now: IANAL. This means, I Am Not A Lawyer and is usually used when someone is about to embark upon a verbal journey into legal territory without knowing what they are talking about. In this case I am applying common sense and my opinion, which I think I am allowed to hold, rather than case law and a background as a Patent lawyer. The thing is, if you go look at the patent concerned and carefully study the diagrams that accompany it, the device appears to be more of a mouse come presentation pointer replacement than a games console controller. Yes, it does contain a vertical IR sensor to place near your monitor which picks up movement of the pressure-sensitive pad on the device and interprets it as mouse movement on-screen, but it’s a far cry from the full monty motion sensitivity found in the Wiimote control.
So is this just another case of patent stupidity, where a company takes a gamble based upon very limited grounds that either a crazy judge will agree with them or, as has happened in the past, the big games company will go into damage limitation mode, roll over and pay up a few million to ‘license’ the technology and make the problem go away? Certainly there is no danger of Nintendo following Sony and removing the disputed feature from their controller, Sony have taken the rumble out of the PS3 rather than cough up the licensing cash, because without the snazzy controller the Wii becomes just a console with a very silly name.
For once, and repeating IANAL, I cannot help but feel that Nintendo will do the right thing here and fight. It would have to be a very crazy judge indeed who would agree with Interlink that they face millions of dollars of lost royalties from sales of a business presentation device because of a games console, after all.