There’s always a party pooper. In this case it’s the patent trolls attacking basic innovation for digital sex toys. Our friends at Comingle (who we’ve been covering since their MVP days) are at the forefront of the battle. Comingle, founded by a few Georgia Tech PhD’s, works to develop DIY open-source sex technology – with the goal to document and share designs for hacking existing devices as well as providing parts and kits for building new forms of sex toys.
Read below for background and grab a pitchfork:
- TZU is trying to sue 6 sex toy startups for infringement (Kickstarter has also been listed as a defendant) of the patent: “Method and device for interactive virtual control of sexual aids using digital computer networks.”
- The people bringing the suit are classified as a “Non-Practicing Entity” meaning they hold patents, but do not make anything themselves. These are the companies sometimes heard of pejoratively referred to as “patent trolls.”
- For a quick summary of the situation, check out this Gizmodo article.
- “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.” – Read more from the Electronic Frontier Foundation
- Comingle isn’t backing down. They have started a defense fund that you can contribute to: https://www.
indiegogo.com/projects/ comingle-patent-troll-defense- fund#/story. Don’t have any cash to donate, but still want to help? Look for art focused on computer, network, or internet controlled (sexual) stimulation devices created before August 1997. It needs to be items that A) existed and were publicly available and B) are dated in some way. Send findings to firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Prior-Art” in the subject.
Our go-to IP expert, Jackie Hutter, weighs in:
It’s typically a difficult situation when a startup is sued by a patent troll because the lawsuits are based on technologies that were in their infancy at the time the patent was filed. This means that it can be tough to find ways to invalidate the patent troll’s patents. In this case, however, I would expect that Comingle might be able to readily find prior art that invalidates the asserted patent. Given that sex has been a hot commodity on the internet since the Usenet days, I would expect that “virtual sex” was old hat by the time this patent came around in 1998. The key for the Comingle guys is to put their community to work for them to find killer prior art that knocks this patent out. Of course, they will still have to spend some money to defend themselves, but the patent troll will have to back down once they realize they have no case or else they could be liable to pay Comingle’s attorney fees.
[Photo credit: Comingle]