EFF Calls Haptic Toy Patent ‘Ridiculously Broad’

EFF Calls Haptic Toy Patent ‘Ridiculously Broad’
Rhett Pardon

SAN FRANCISCO — The Electronic Frontier Foundation has weighed in on the patent infringement suit against six haptic toy makers, and they’ve surmised that the intellectual property claimed by TZU Technologies LLC deserves to be called “stupid” and that the holder’s patent is “ridiculously broad.”

TZU Technologies, which was assigned U.S. Patent No. 6,368,268 from its inventor, Warren Sandvick, filed the six suits against RealTouch, Comingle, Holland Haptics, Vibease, Frixion and Winzz.

Each of the suits claim that the companies willfully infringed on the patent by proceeding with the manufacture and sale of products, or the funding of them, after being aware of the patent. 

But Vera Ranieri, a staff attorney at the EFF, an organization that works to protect fundamental technology rights that also is known for its bold commentaries, said in piece published this week that Tzu Technologies’ suit shows how the U.S.’s broken patent system is preventing innovation in many spaces, including those industries that produce adult entertainment and sex toys and novelties.

“Looking closely at the patent, and specifically at what Tzu Technologies actually claims to own, it is clear that this patent, regardless of its exciting subject matter, deserves to be called stupid,” Ranieri said.

“As this 1993 Chicago Tribune article shows, the idea of remotely stimulating a partner was nothing new in 1998 (the year the application for the patent was filed),” she wrote. “Nor was it unknown how to do it. Howard Stern (in)famously engaged in some of his own teledildonics in the 1980s, that was later reenacted in his 1997 movie “Private Parts.”

"Given this history, you might expect that, in 1998, patent applicants would need to come up with some new and nonobvious way of using a computer to control a sex toy. But like many patents that we have labeled “Stupid,” that’s not what happened. Or at least, that’s not what the inventors claimed."

Ranieri pointed to Claim 8 of the patent, showing how broad she thinks the patent is.

“Perhaps the Patent Office should have given Howard Stern a patent, given that the patent explicitly suggests that the ‘input device’ can be a microphone,” she wrote.

“Ultimately, Claim 8 of this patent is nothing more than the idea of teledildonics, dressed up in ‘input devices,’ ‘signals’ and ‘interfaces.’ That’s what makes this patent, and these lawsuits, so frustrating. There was nothing novel, nonobvious, or even patentable about this claim. It never should have issued. Doing it with a computer (literally) does not make something patentable.

“More and more, everyday items are incorporating software and networking technology. Unfortunately, that means more and more everyday items are at risk of being said to infringe overbroad, vague patents that never should have issued.

"As this patent shows, the problems with the patent system have the potential to impact many diverse fields, and until we find a way for small companies to quickly and efficiently shut down these patent trolls, we will continue to hurt innovators who are merely trying to make life more interesting.”

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