Patent Law Sparks Three-Way Legal Battle

Bob Preston
SAN FRANCISCO — A fight over a sex toy sparked a compelling look at the law and embroiled an adult industry veteran.

The law in question is patent law, and the adult industry luminary is free-speech advocate Greg Piccionelli of the law firm of Piccionelli & Sarno.

The row started when a tech company called Immersion sued entertainment giant Sony for patent infringement. Immersion's specialty is interactive technology that lets users feel what's happening onscreen. This includes everything from vibrating video-game controllers to high-tech medical devices. Insiders call it "haptic" technology.

In this case, Immersion went after Sony for its shaking video-game controllers, but then the adult industry got involved, and that's when the two-way fight turned into a three-way brawl.

The third company, called Internet Services, claimed that they had a licensing deal with Immersion to add haptic technology to adult websites and steamy video games. Internet Services said that part of this licensing deal included the right to enforce Immersion's patents.

Internet Services retained the high-profile San Francisco law firm Keker & Van Nest for the case. That was back in 2004. Since the beginning of this year, Keker had been trying to get out of the case, citing a conflict with industry lawyer Greg Piccionelli.

Although Piccionelli wasn't available for comment by post time, online reports show that Immersion's lawyers wanted to depose him. That deposition never happened, apparently because Piccionelli never agreed to be represented by Keker & Van Nest, and Immersion's lawyers never properly served him with a subpoena.

Keker managed to get free of the case in June, and Internet Services has since found new counsel.