CES vendors showing off shady old-school console emulators

This year a handful of companies showed off questionably legal console emulators, passing them off as safe to sell.

Jeff Bakalar Editor at Large
Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.
Jeff Bakalar

Shady video game console emulators at CES 2009--photos

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One of the interesting trends we saw at the lackluster gaming showcase at this year's CES was an abundance of Nintendo, Super Nintendo, and Sega Genesis hardware manufactured by third-party companies.

Some booths, which preferred to remain nameless, were showcasing 3-in-1 portable players as well, with slots to play all the above-mentioned consoles. All you need are the original game cartridges.

Perplexed as to how this kind of blatant patent infringement could possibly be tolerated, we asked these booth reps, "How can this be legal?" One booth rep immediately told us that "the patent for these consoles has since expired, essentially making it a free-for-all." At a different booth, a clearly uninformed rep responded, "As far as I know, all this is Kosher."

But is it? A while back in 2005 a Gamasutra article disclosed some research and uncovered that simply because a patent is expired doesn't mean protection of the patent has also. So what are these guys even doing at CES in the first place?

We'll be in touch with Nintendo for some further explanation and a statement, but as far as we can tell, some of these vendors appear to be breaking the law with these devices. We'll update this story once we hear back.

Meanwhile, check out our slide show highlighting some of these suspect products for sale from various vendors on the showroom floor.