Judge orders Nintendo to stop selling patent violating Wii and Gamecube controllers

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Nintendo's no stranger to frivolous patents — it does hold one for "handheld software emulation" after all, much to the EFF's chagrin — but they've just fallen afoul of one. U.S. Dictrict Judge Ron Clark has ordered Nintendo to either stop selling their Wii Classic Controllers and Gamecube Controllers or pay money to Anascape Ltd. for violating their analog stick patents.

This is the same Anascape that nailed Sony in 2004 and Microsoft earlier this year for their Playstation and Xbox controllers, which also featured analog thumb sticks... as do basically every modern controller. Curiously, the Wii nunchuck is not considered to be patent violating. The US District judge showed no mercy, completely rejecting Nintendo's request for a new trial. The end result is that Nintendo needs to stop selling all of its controllers with analog thumb sticks today or else post a bond or put royalties into an Anascape escrow account. Nintendo, naturally, aims to appeal.

There's zero chance Nintendo's actually going to pull Wii Classic Controllers off the shelves, so if you want one, you're probably safe. Still, one hopes that this experience will teach Nintendo something about frivolous patentry. Unfortunately, I suspect that lesson will ultimately be, "Make sure we're the ones who hold all the frivolous patents in the first place."

Nintendo Facing Ban on Some Wii, Gamecube Controllers [1UP]

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13 Comments

  1. I’m sure they’re 100-200 bucks more to buy on eBay now too because of this.

    For a low cost system you at least get some drama.

  2. #2 Neither does the Wavebird or the Classic Controler but they are still subject to the ban. The fact that no one can figure out what the fuck this patent is for raises some alarm.

  3. This isn’t about Rumble at all. For reference, the company that owns this patent is a one-man show, has never released a product, and the patent being violated is for “control pad with analog button.” This is just pure extortion.

  4. I may be wrong here, but I believe the atari 2600 was an analog joystick… Wouldn’t that proove prior art?

  5. The best article seems to be at http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20080723-nintendo-cant-fight-off-patent-metroids-faces-injunction.html

    “For reference, the company that owns this patent is a one-man show, has never released a product…”

    Exactly. Since it seems more insulating to think this is the action of some faceless company, I’d just like to add that that man’s name is (evidently) Brad Armstrong of Carson City, Nevada.

    “I may be wrong here, but I believe the atari 2600 was an analog joystick… Wouldn’t that proove prior art?”

    Actually, Anascape né Brad Armstrong didn’t file until 1996 so the Nintendo 64’s “controller with analog button” would seem to be sufficient.

  6. Pain about the Wavebird, but does anyone use the WII Classic Controller for anything anyway?

  7. I think the problem is that the judge can only check whether Nintendo is in violation of the patent, and not whether the patent itself is valid.

  8. Doesn’t Nintendo own the patent for the 4-way directional pad, seen on the left side of every video game controller for the past 23 years? (Oh, wait, how long do patents last again?) Just an interesting tidbit.

    And, in this case, the patent is for “analog button”. Are you sure this refers to the thumb-joystick, and not to buttons (A, B, X, Y) that are pressure-sensitive (rather than just on-off)? I may be mistaken, but I think the PS2 was the first to have analog buttons.

  9. #7: I use it to play some of the “classic” games you can get for the Wii, like Galaga. It is a perfect match for that.

    I also use it for Marios Kart, though it is a bit tweaky for the jumps and tricks.

  10. ok. I RTFP, it is not as obvious as one might guess:

    1. A 3-D graphics controller used with a television based game, comprising:
    The preamble. not binding so we don’t care too much what a “3-D controller is

    a game, said game at least in part controlled by circuitry,

    OK, we have that

    said circuitry located on at least one sheet, said at least one sheet comprising:
    Nintendo could evade this by using 2 PC boards

    a circuit board sheet connected to a flexible membrane sheet; a first element structured to activate four unidirectional sensors, said four unidirectional sensors at least in part connected to said at least one sheet, said four unidirectional sensors useful to control said game;

    This is the little rubber gasket thingy with the 4 contact points

    a second element with structure to activate a first two rotary potentiometers, said first two rotary potentiometers at least in part connected to said at least one sheet, said first two rotary potentiometers useful to control said game; a third element with structure to activate a second two rotary potentiometers, said second two rotary potentiometers at least in part connected to said at least one sheet, said second two rotary potentiometers useful to control said game;

    From my brief reading, these are the potentiometers that allow the joysticks to have variable control, instead of just on-off

    an independent first button structured to activate a first button sensor, said first button depressible by a single finger of a user, said first button sensor at least in part connected to said at least one sheet, said first button sensor creates simple switched On/Off data useful to control said game; an independent pivotal second button structured to activate a second button sensor, said second button pivots upon depression by a single finger of the user, said second button sensor at least in part connected to said at least one sheet, said second button sensor capable of outputing a proportional signal useful to control said game; an independent pivotal third button structured to activate a third button sensor, said third button pivotal upon depression by a single finger of the user, said third button sensor at least in part connected to said at least one sheet, said third button sensor capable of outputing a proportional signal useful to control said game;
    this all describes buttons

    active tactile feedback vibration detectable by the user of said game.
    Yes it has to have rumble – that is why the Nunchuck escaped

    So in summary, this is not a imply, obvious patent on joysticks, there IS some innovation in that there is a rumble pack, variable joysticks, one-piece construction, etc. The patent has five pages of references. This can me two things. One, the inventor wanted to flood the patent office with prior art to avoid a complete examination, or two, he really did his research. Many of the references are Japanese and some could be Nintendo themselves (I didn’t check). The effective filing date is 1992 at the earliest. I doubt all this was “obvious” in 1992. There are of course some technicalities and details, but in looking at this, I would say that the inventor was ahead of his time and happened to get lucky in inventing something that industry started using. More power to him. If others have already licensed this, and given the long list of prior art and the likely very thick and detailed file history, it is unlikely that Nintendo will be able to overturn it, especially in East Texas.

    Disclaimers:
    IANAL
    I have a Wii but not a classic controller
    I want one but haven’t gotten one yet
    I hope the price doesn’t go up too much

  11. As somebody who has had their life made miserable by a frivolous patent lawsuit that nonetheless cost me over half a million bucks in fees, all I can say is that this is just the start.

    The American patent system is terribly broken and is allowing unscrupulous individuals and companies to abuse the system in ways that would make the most sleazy ambulance chaser blanch.

    Why doesn’t 60 minutes cover this issue?

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