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Nintendo and Microsoft in Suit Over Controller Patents 128

Posted by Zonk
from the and-now-it's-time-for-a-shakedown dept.
Via Kotaku, an article at the Inquirer discussing a patent suit brought against Microsoft and Nintendo over controller technologies. Anascape Ltd, a Texas firm, claims the two companies have infringed on over a dozen of its held patents. From the article: "Anascape alleges 6,222,525 'Image Controller with Sheet Connected Sensors' was also breached, as well as 6,343, 991 'Game Control with Analog Pressure Sensor' and 6,344,791 'Variable Sensor with Tactile Feedback'. As well as 6,347,997 'Analog Controls Housed with Electronic Displays', 6,351,205 'Variable Conductance Sensor' (a different one) and 6,400, 303 'Remote Controller with Analog Pressure Sensor' (a different one)."
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Nintendo and Microsoft in Suit Over Controller Patents

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  • I think I've seen this business plan before
    1. Start a business in an area dominated by MSFT
    2. Sue them for patent infringment
    3. ???
    4. Profit!!!
  • Patent trolls? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by govtpiggy (978532) on Friday August 04, 2006 @03:18PM (#15848250)
    So these guys have apparently patented the idea of an analog button doing anything on a display. Smells like patent trolls to me. I just want to know why these seemingly obvious patents keep getting given out.

    United States Patent 6,347,997:
    Devices for controlling imagery shown by a display, and including an analog sensor for creating a varying analog value according to varying depression applied by a finger of a human user to the analog sensor. In one preferred embodiment the analog sensor(s) includes a resilient dome cap for providing tactile feedback to the finger depressing the analog sensor. Circuitry within a housing is connected to the analog sensor for reading the varying analog value from the analog sensor and causing representative varying the imagery shown by the display. The devices can be individually structured as electronic game controllers/systems, telephones, pagers, electronic books, web browsers, global positioning receivers, ovens, coffee makers and personal digital assistants (PDA) to name a few.
    • If every second Slashdot story was a patent applicaton, it would be a start to weed out the patent trolls...

      Sure it wont catch these guys seeing as they submitted it in 1999, but its a start.

      I believe the patent system needs a total overhaul. Technology evolves so fast that perhaps the patent period should be limited to 5 years, and only on the conditon you are selling the product, or the patent is forfeited.
      • Re:Patent trolls? (Score:2, Interesting)

        by shimage (954282)
        So you're telling me that only companies big enough to sell things should be allowed to patent something? A guy can't just come up with a good idea and sell it to someone anymore? I think requiring intent to manufacture something results in a chicken and egg problem for "little people". Not that I don't think there is a serious problem with the USPTO; I just don't think that's the solution.
        • Re:Patent trolls? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by sqlrob (173498) on Friday August 04, 2006 @04:10PM (#15848600)
          So go back to requiring a prototype
          • Under the newer patent laws (first to file over first to invent), this would mean the person with the crappiest prototype gets the patent. If that's the case, why prototype?
        • So you're telling me that only companies big enough to sell things should be allowed to patent something? A guy can't just come up with a good idea and sell it to someone anymore?

          No, but then why wait 6 years before suing? They can hardly claim they never heard of either the XBox or the GameCube since then. Did they purposefully wait until Microsoft and Nintendo had sold a whole lot of units before going with the suit, to make sure the settlement was as big as possible (they are suing quite close to both

          • Sorry for not being clearer; I agree with your point (that the suit is bull). I just think that requiring that they manufacture the patented product will create far more problems than it solves. I don't think you can fit a good solution into a slashdot post, though, so I'm not going to try.
      • I think what's REALLY needed for dealing with patent trolls is an AT4 or five.
    • Re:Patent trolls? (Score:5, Informative)

      by fishybell (516991) <fishybell@[ ]mail.com ['hot' in gap]> on Friday August 04, 2006 @03:34PM (#15848361) Homepage Journal
      Devices for controlling imagery shown by a display, and including an analog sensor for creating a varying analog value

      Wow...sucks for them. Too bad both Microsoft and Nintendo use digital controllers. Yes, there are varying values depending on the analog input (all human input is analog after all), but the output is now, always has been, and always will be, digital.

      There is no way that either Microsoft or Nintendo are sending varying levels of voltages to the console when they can send a couple of digital packets that contain all the information on all the buttons in about the same amount of bandwidth (over cord or air). Technically the packets are an analog signal that is encoded to represent a digital value, but there is no "varying analog value," just a series of different combinations of the same value of high and low voltage.

      • Nintendo has been using digital protocols since the NES (whereas the Atari VCS simply had a few wires connecting each part of the controller with the base system), Microsoft uses USB. Perhaps analog peripherials used by Atari would fall under this umbrella.
      • I'm no patent lawyer, not even a lawyer at all, but I sometimes find myself describing the values captured from an ADC as "analog," even though it's clearly digital at this point (but still in useless unscientific form). And I have no doubt that the accellerometer on the Wii has an analog output hooked up to an ADC on a microcontroller before it ever reaches the Wii. Meaning that at some level, they are including an analog sensor creating analog values.
      • Wow...sucks for them. Too bad both Microsoft and Nintendo use digital controllers. Yes, there are varying values depending on the analog input (all human input is analog after all), but the output is now, always has been, and always will be, digital.

        IIRC (it's been a while), the N64 'analogue' stick was actually a matrix of either 64x64 or 128x128 values, and therefore digital. So absolutely correct, Nintendo did (and probably still does) use entirely digital control systems, so this patent is even more
      • I haven't looked at a GCN controller, but the N64 controller works almost the same as a ball mouse: it detects direction and speed (using digital sensors), which is why it malfunctions if you turn the console on with the stick off-centre (it doesn't know where it is). They presumably fixed that in the GCN one with some sort of auto calibration.
        • I believe the GCN exibits the same behavior, it really is a feature not a bug however, the small annoyance of having to reconnect the controller is much better than having a spring wear unevenly and suddenly have the neutral position cause movement in one direction.
        • The Gamecube controller uses the same hardware as the N64 one. It does not detect direction and speed. It's a 512x512 "grid". (Don't ask me why they used a 9-bit number on each axis. It's a barely noticeable increase in precision.)

          As for starting the system with the stick off-center, that's a feature, not a bug. The stick auto-calibrates every time the system starts up. If you happen to have the stick tilted at startup, it calibrates that as the center "neutral point", thus when the stick goes back to neutr
    • There's nothing obvious about this at all. The controller I built uses a cone depressed by a foot.

      Totally different.

      KFG
    • I just want to know why these seemingly obvious patents keep getting given out.

      The simple answer is because there is no penalty to filing a bogus patents other than the filing fee. A few tweaks to the system to make abusing it carry a cost and the system would work fine. And for that matter software algorithms should be patentable, just like any other process, the real problem is that there are so many bogus software patents like 'clicking a button to purchase goods' that are just criminally stupid.

      * If a
      • Re:Patent trolls? (Score:2, Insightful)

        by KDR_11k (778916)
        Software algorithms are just mathematics, I don't think those were ever patentable. After all maths were around when the patent system was set up so it would have a provision for maths already if that was intended to be patentable.
    • No. The abstract of a patent does not tell what has been patented. Nor does the title, the detailed description, the background...

      You have to read the claims.

      1. A hand holdable electronic device for controlling imagery, comprising:

      a housing sized to be hand-held;

      electronic circuitry located in said housing;

      a general image display located in said housing, said general image display operatively connected to said circuitry;

      at least one finger depressible surface in part exposed on said housing, said at least
      • Yes but there's no image display in either controller so that infringement claim would be nonsense. After all it says the display is in the same housing.
      • Ok I'm looking at the claims and basically it's extremely clear from the claims that they've tried to patent the concept of a pressure sensitive analog button that has visual feedback.

        It's a good idea no doubt. I can think of tons of applications for such a button. Although I can't remember any game controller ever having a pressure sensitive analog button. It's very specific that it has to be a depressible surface so they can't claim analog sticks count.

        The problem though still is that it's freaking obv
    • Apparently all it takes is a sixth grade education to be employed at the US patent office. When they see all those big, strange words, they think "I don't even understand half of this. It must be new and innovative!"

      Why can't they hire real Einsteins like they used to?

    • including an analog sensor for creating a varying analog value according to varying depression applied by a finger of a human user to the analog sensor.

      Ha! I'm using my thumb!
  • Prior Art? (Score:5, Funny)

    by twistedsymphony (956982) on Friday August 04, 2006 @03:19PM (#15848257) Homepage
    Patents Filed in 1999 eh?

    I guess that box sitting in my basement full of old Nintendo controlers would classify as prior art?
    • Old nintendo controlers are digital, the directional and A-B buttons were either "on" or "off". These patents are for analog controls, which means they determine if a button is 0% down, 100% down, or anything in between.

      -Rick
      • Re:Prior Art? (Score:5, Informative)

        by deadmantyping (827232) on Friday August 04, 2006 @03:37PM (#15848382)
        Actually the Nintendo 64 (N64) featured an analog stick, in addition to the digital pads, and the N64 was released in (drumroll please) 1996 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nintendo_64 [wikipedia.org]) and it was publically introduced in 1995, so Nintendo can indeed claim prior art.
        • Good to know. I have never actually owned and "entertainment system", only computers. I borrowed a friends original Nintendo once for a few weeks, so that's what I'm familiar with. I have no idea on the release dates of any of the newer consoles.

          -Rick
        • We also had analog sticks in the 80s. Atari made some, plus a plethora of arcade units.
        • The patents are referring to analog buttons.

          The analog button features don't get a lot of use, but many modern console controllers actually know how hard you are pushing a button. I always found it entertaining that the classic-looking four-way d-pad on a PS2 controller actually had more "analog" granularity than the analog-looking controller next to it.

          • Similar to, say, the analog buttons that shipped with Street Fighter 1 to the arcades in the 80's?

            Yeah, no prior art there.

            BTW, the analog buttons don't get much use in gaming because they're really not that consistent. Sure, they may report a few hundred distinct pressure levels, but the best you're getting out of them at any accuracy level is "pushed really hard," and "tapped kinda light." This harks back to both implementation-on-a-budget problems, and the problem that people just don't pay that much a
      • Re-read the OP. Please. Then remember that the N64 had all of these technologies incorporated into it's controler. And that it was released in October of 1995. So there is no way this is going to make it past court. As far as anolouge buttons, I'm pretty sure Sony's the first to actually utilize those, and they're in quite a bit of trouble as it is with thier Dual-Shock.
        • Sorry about that. Got sidetracked at work and hit post anyway. Then read the other response to your post.... So, you must have had a life or some imagination to have grown up without any video games.
    • Re:Prior Art? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Raistlin77 (754120)
      So why not sue Sony as well - the PS2 came out in 2000 with the new controllers that had analog joysticks...
      • More relevant to this suit is the fact that the Dual-Shock controllers have pressure-sensitive analog buttons, a feature which was used in only a few games, including GT4.
        See wikipedia [wikipedia.org].
        • by ZakuSage (874456)
          Quite a number of my games used pressure sensitive buttons in a near-critical manner, including Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3. Twin Snakes on GameCube feels crippled in controls without it.
          • How in the hell is this a troll? Twin Snakes controls really are just awful after you've played using pressure sensitivity in MGS2. WTF?
    • I wonder if these idiots have ever heard of an analog input device called a "mouse".
  • by Yvan256 (722131) on Friday August 04, 2006 @03:23PM (#15848286) Homepage Journal
    Aren't patents supposed to be allowed only if the company actually has a product on the market using the patented feature?
    • Nope.. that would make sence..

      all you need for a patent is an idea and money (if the idea isn't yours they don't care) - oh and there can't be prior art showing that you are faking it (but remember your the one that has to show them the prior art)

      as far as i am concerned.. people need to get hung/shot for crap like this..
    • No. That would be nice, but I don't know of any country with such a law.

      In fact many companies simply buy patents, being purely tech litigators and having no product or development or technical expertise.
    • Alas, nope. My favorite example of late is an anti-gravity machine.

      http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/11/11 11_051111_junk_patent.html [nationalgeographic.com]

    • No, and I don't think that would be a good thing either. A few years back some guy invented a device [npr.org] that would detect when a table saw's blade was cutting something other than wood - such as a finger (or a hot dog in the demo).

      He was not equipped to go into the business of making table saws and having to compete with the likes of Delta or Rigid, so he decided to try to license the patents to them. But they wouldn't bite, so he finally did have to go into the manufacturing business himself. Should he h

      • But he was in the process of selling the product. He was trying to sell his idea to the other companies. Having the product on the market does not necessarily mean just to the consumers selling it to manufacturer should count as well.

        If after they refused to buy he just threw in the towel and never tried to get in the market again, then it should be fair game.
        • Yeah, but then the only thing the people to whom he had tried to license it would have to do is stonewall until he gave up - then swoop in and use the technology. After all - it's "fair game."
          • Except when the market for such a product becomes obvious, all a patent holder has to do it go to a bank and say, "Hey I've got this great idea and X company(ies) are simply trying to outlast me. If I actually go to the market with this product, I'll either make a killing or make a ton of cash when I get bought out. Its win-win!"

            Theres a reason why patent trolls ARE called trolls. Currently a person can sit on a patent for DECADES without ever making a product and simply cash in on it later by suing compani

    • A lot of people have replied "No" to this, but it should be pointed out that the presence of a product on the market *can* (AFAIK) affect the amount in damages awarded.
  • broad patents (Score:1, Interesting)

    by foxhound01 (661872)
    these patents don't seem all that specific, 'Analog Controls Housed with Electronic Displays' implies that putting a screen of any type, or an LED for that matter would be a breach of patent, i somehow think that this won't fly in court, especially with the kind of attorneys that microsoft and nintendo can afford. as for the other patents, i don't see much more substantial stuff there either.
    • Wouldnt the PSP be subject to this with the analog stick it has? Mebbe some dirty tactics on sony's part?
      • Probably not. The ill-fated Sega Dreamcast is prior art, and was out before both the PSP and this patent. The DC had an analog control stick, the memory card plugged right into the controller, and the memory card had a digital display that could react to input from the controller (via the console). This basically covers all the claims of the patent: analog input, embedded digital display. In fact, all their patents sound like stuff that had already existed at the time. It's a shame Nintendo & MS wi
    • I can't even think of an instance where Nintendo or Microsoft combined analog input with a display in one device.
  • by madhatter256 (443326) on Friday August 04, 2006 @03:32PM (#15848347)
    Nintendo clearly states the patent number their devices use. I am not sure about MS though. If these patents by the plaintiff were filed in 1999, but if Nintendo has patents on their analog joysticks then this case will be thrown out the window like the million other patent suits brought up against them. I need to hurry up and patent my invention called "Life" and then sue the whole world for patent infringement.
  • what about Sony? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by thoughtlover (83833) on Friday August 04, 2006 @03:38PM (#15848387)
    My PS2 controller has analog pressure-sensitive buttons. Why were they excluded from the lawsuit?

    What about any third-party that makes controllers using said technology?
    • "My PS2 controller has analog pressure-sensitive buttons. Why were they excluded from the lawsuit?"

      Which buttons are those? Sorry if that's a dumb question, but they've always felt digital to me.
      • The D-pad (up, down, left, right) is pressure sensitive as are the other buttons. I just finished playing Gran Turismo 4 last night. Pressure sensitive buttons are not just useful, but necessary in the game!
      • Just about every button is pressure-sensitive: X, circle, square, triangle, L1, L2, R1, R2, and the four D-pad directions. So in Gran Turismo 3, you can control your speed by how hard you press the gas button, and you can use analog steering without having to touch the analog stick.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    6,208,271 "Remote Controller with Analog Button".

    Make a controller with an analog button: No problem.
    Make a controller which is wireless: No problem.

    Make a controller which is wireless AND has an analog button: PATENT VIOLATION, YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR THAT!

    The patent office's decision to spend very little money on approving each patent is costing industry and innocent bystanders gobs and gobs of money in unnecessary court fees. Will this ever stop?
    • "Make a controller which is wireless AND has an analog button: PATENT VIOLATION, YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR THAT!"

      There is no mention of wireless controllers in this article. You misunderstand what 'remote' means in this context.
    • This is going to be legalese double-speak, but strictly speaking the term 'remote control' does not imply wireless. My grandpa had an old stoneage TV that had a remote control with a wire running to the TV. And it called itself a remote control. So it is undeniable that remote controls with analog buttons in reference to "manipulating images" has been around since the 80s.
    • Worse than that, it is costing you Americans jobs...Innovation is stifled, companies are fearful of investing in new research, employees are not hired/retained...watch your 4.8% unemployment rate keep rising...shame, real shame for the US.
  • Anascape Ltd. ?? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Chaffar (670874) on Friday August 04, 2006 @03:52PM (#15848492)
    What kind of company that has patents on GAME CONTROLLERS doesn't even have its own website [google.com]??
  • ..It seems to make more sense to create a new department where you can apply for "unpatents" or prior art to prevent patent abuse then to try to revise the current patent structure....
  • Those are a lot of patents. Including some that I swear would be covered by the Immersion patents Sony and Microsoft have been successfully sued over [gamasutra.com], patents for 'tactile feedback' and 'vibrating' having been apparently upheld in court. Hey, as long as we have this many charges, can we throw RICO in there for flavor?
  • Misleading title (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Chris Pimlott (16212) on Friday August 04, 2006 @04:01PM (#15848541)
    The article title makes it sound like Nintendo and Microsoft are suing each other, instead of both being sued by a third party. How about something like "Company sues Nintendo, Microsoft over Controller Patent"?
    • whats nintendomicrosoft? oh theres a teeny tiny COMMA there. Thats a really bad headline from a reading point of view. I would use an 'and' not a comma. "Company sues Nintendo and Microsoft over Controller Patent". If thats too long, you could abreviate microsoft to M$. That would also spark at least a few +5 comments joking, commending or damming the use of the monkier.

      im only replying to this becuase its slow ass friday and im really bored.

  • Wait, but if they're losing money on the consoles, does that mean the patent holder is entitled to negative cash? I wonder if Microsoft takes Paypal...
  • by DeadCatX2 (950953) on Friday August 04, 2006 @05:25PM (#15849001) Journal
    I thought something was funny when I read about the suit being filed in East Texas.

    According to techdirt [techdirt.com], there's a federal judge in Marshall, Texas (a district in East Texas) who almost universally grants injunctions against patent infringers. Said judge is a favorite of patent trolls.

    According to this pdf [theinquirer.net], the case is filed in...gasp...Marshall, TX.
  • for anything.

    And it's sometimes used as a bargaining wedge to be "bought out" and rewarded with cash for a case that has no merits.
  • The original Capcom Street Fighter standup arcade game, which came out late 1987/early 1988 I believe, had analog kick and punch buttons that gauged the force of blow and would animate the game protagonist accordingly.
  • analog controllers have been around since, let me think, 2-45*58 carry the 9 * cos20 = roughly about 50 years now. Can we all say "Patent Office Morons"?
  • This motion sensor stuff is ridiculous... If I wanted to go through the motions of playing tennis or golf in my living room I'd go out and do it in real life. Video games are for vegging out on the couch and not moving.

    Honestly if my FPS required me to wave my arms around to kill anything I wouldn't play it. The current controller has been around in various shapes for 30 years, and any weird new designs have failed, maybe that's for a reason?

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