Sony loses round in DualShock patent case

Judge rules that appeal in patent holder Immersion's suit over vibrating controllers will go forward.

A judge has denied Sony's plea to overturn a patent infringement verdict that could potentially shut down sales of the PlayStation game console. Last week, Judge Claudia Wilken of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that Sony had not proven that patent holder Immersion attempted to conceal information in its dispute with Sony over vibrating game controllers. Sony is therefore not entitled, she ruled, to relief from a judgment that it violated Immersion's patents.

In 2004, Sony lost a patent infringement case brought by Immersion, which licenses technology called "haptics" that allow game controllers and other devices to vibrate in response to events such as getting tackled during a game of "Madden NFL 2006."

A jury ruled that Sony's DualShock controllers infringed on Immersion's technology, and awarded Immersion $82 million. That amount was later increased to $90.7 million, and Wilken entered an injunction on U.S. sales of PlayStation consoles, controllers and games that use the vibrating technology. That injunction was stayed pending an appeal, which is currently in process in a federal appeals court.

Sony claimed that Immersion had concealed its conversations with an inventor, Craig Thorner, who had patented similar technology prior to Immersion. Lawyers for Sony argued that Immersion had tried to prevent Sony from learning that Thorner had developed prototypes based on his patents by hiring Thorner as a consultant. Immersion, however, argued that Sony could have discovered the information during the trial but chose not to, and the judge agreed.

Immersion has licensed the technology in question to companies such as Logitech and Microsoft, said Vic Viegas, Immersion's chief executive officer. Sony has been paying Immersion 1.37 percent of its quarterly revenue from PlayStation sales under a compulsory license ordered by the judge, but Immersion's standard rate is 5 percent, and the company hopes to use the injunction to force a settlement deal that reflects the higher rate, he said.

A Sony representative declined to comment on pending litigation.

Briefings in the appeal are expected to conclude this month.

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