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Dual shocked: Sony faces US$90 million PlayStation fine

US District Court orders Sony to halt American sales of PS2s and affected materials.

    by
  • CNET Australia staff

A US District Court has found Sony Computer Entertainment infringed on a patent held by a California company relating to vibrating game controllers. While the court has ordered an injuction to stop Sony from selling PlayStations in the US, Sony has appealed the decision, allowing it to continue sales for now.

Three years ago, Northern California technology company Immersion Corporation brought a suit against Sony Computer Entertainment and Microsoft Corporation claiming patent infringement of its proprietary technology used in the controllers for the companies' home consoles: the PlayStation, PlayStation 2, and Xbox.

Microsoft settled out of court with Immersion in 2003, avoiding messy legal proceedings for US$26 million, which also got Microsoft a 10 per cent stake in Immersion.

Sony, on the other hand, left the decision up to the courts, a move that appears to have cost the company a serious chunk of change. Last Thursday, United States District Judge Claudia Wilken ordered the electronics giant to pay Immersion US$90.7 million in patent infringement damages. The fine stems from the US$82 million awarded to Immersion by a jury's decision on September 21, 2004, plus prejudgement interest of US$8.7 million tacked on last week, which Sony unsuccessfully objected to.

The tiff involves Immersion's technology that creates the "rumble" feature that causes controllers to vibrate in sync with events in games. The court found in favor of Immersion's claims that Sony's Dual Shock controllers, the standard sticks for Sony's PlayStation and PlayStation 2, and several of its games infringe on two of its patents.

The Oakland, California, court also ordered an injunction stating that Sony is to immediately stop selling the PlayStation, PlayStation 2, both versions of the Dual Shock controllers, and 47 games found to use the vibration technology, including Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and Gran Turismo 3. The injunction only affects sales in the United States.

Sony immediately appealed the decision and has been granted a stay of permanent injunction, allowing Sony to sell its products as normal during the appeals process. However, Sony will have to pay a licensing fee to Immersion for the duration of the stay.