Obviously, No One Ever Would Have Thought Of Remote Controlled Sex Toys Without This Patent

from the how-stimulating dept

Alright, people, strap in and keep the laughter to a minimum because we’re going to talk dildos here. Specifically, remotely operated dildos, and other sex apparatuses, including those operated by Bluetooth connections or over the internet. It seems that in 1998, a Texan by the name of Warren Sandvick applied for a patent that casts an awfully wide net over remotely controlled sexual stimulation, specifically any of the sort that involves a user interface in a location different from the person being stimulated. You can find the patent at the link, but here’s the abstract:

An interactive virtual sexual stimulation system has one or more user interfaces. Each user interface generally comprises a computer having an input device, video camera, and transmitter. The transmitter is used to interface the computer with one or more sexual stimulation devices, which are also located at the user interface. In accordance with the preferred embodiment, a person at a first user interface controls the stimulation device(s) located at a second user interface. The first and second user interfaces may be connected, for instance, through a web site on the Internet. In another embodiment, a person at a user interface may interact with a prerecorded video feed. The invention is implemented by software that is stored at the computer of the user interface, or at a web site accessed through the Internet.

Great, except that nothing in the above is an actual invention; it’s essentially an acknowledgement that a dildo could be controlled remotely and an attempt to lay claim to that function exclusively. The description of the art outlaid in the patent rests solely on the claim that sexual stimulation devices have always been either self-stimulation devices or that any remotely operated stimulation devices still required close proximity. But it all rests on what you consider a stimulation device. Take this language from the patent, for instance.

These stimulation aids, however, require that the operator directly engage the stimulation aid. Only several stimulation aids are known that allow the stimulation aid to be operated by a remote controller-type device, such as shown in U.S. Pat. No. 4,834,115 to Stewart entitled “Penile Constrictor Ring,” U.S. Pat. No. 4,412,535 to Teren entitled “Remotely Controlled Massaging Apparatus,” U.S. Pat. Nos. 3,978,851 and 3,874,373, each to Sobel and entitled “Massaging Apparatus,” and U.S. Pat. No. 5,454,840 to Krakovsky et al. entitled “Potency Package.” Nonetheless, these prior art devices all have the disadvantage that the operator must be in close proximity to the recipient.

Great, except the smart phone, and even cell phones prior, could be considered prior art to this patent as well. After all, a person might suggest to another person that they put their phone on vibrate and shove it down their shorts while at work while the first person text-messages them all day, setting the phone off and creating stimulation. It’s the same thing. The fact that a phone’s primary function isn’t sexual arousal doesn’t really matter. And I’m not the only one who thinks so.

And yet, in 2002 the USPTO granted the patent to Sandvick, who in turn sold it to a company called TZU, who is now filing lawsuits against six companies that have or will soon be offering remotely-operated sexual stimulation products. Those companies have such varied products as bluetooth controlled vibrators, programmable and remotely controlled dildos, and even, from one company, software apparently for remote hand-holding (complaints included in the link above). All this over a delightfully broad patent granted to someone for his non-invention and now employed by a third party simply to extract money out of businesses actually making products. And not just any businesses, either. The types of businesses seem to suggest that TZU knows exactly what kind of shaky ground it’s on.

More than anything, the TZU phenomenon seems to be one more data point suggesting that as it becomes harder to win high-stakes patent suits, the best business model for trolls may be to seek small payouts from companies that are ill-equipped to afford a legal defense. Basic Google-level research suggests that five of these six defendants can’t possibly have significant sales at this point.

Anyone actually want to argue that the founding fathers’ intention in patent law would be to make sure that companies couldn’t create devices for your significant other to buzz your naughty bits?

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Comments on “Obviously, No One Ever Would Have Thought Of Remote Controlled Sex Toys Without This Patent”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

One person can have an innovative idea, but if half a dozen have the same idea...

Forget prior art, unless the troll is going to argue that every one of the companies suing knew about the patent before creating the ‘infringing’ product(s), the fact that six companies, at least, have come up with something similar to what’s (vaguely) described in the patent should invalidate it as obvious to those in the field, and lacking sufficient innovation to be considered patent-able in the first place.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: One person can have an innovative idea, but if half a dozen have the same idea...

At a very basic level, remotely controlled, or over a network, is an obvious step to take. The common hold up to doing so is having the necessary bandwidth to support the control and feedback communications required, such as audio, video and haptic feedback, or technological developments to make this possible. Unfortunately the US patent office keeps issuing do X over a network, where they are patenting an idea, and not some invention that provides the technology needed to enable the idea to be implemented.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Is this the cumming of Skynet?

They’d likely still objection, though less strenuously than they object to AI being used for autonomous killing machines.

Not anything moral, I’m just guessing they’re of a school of thought that really wants to make sure we don’t fuck up with AI and screw ourselves over in some manner or another instead of reaping the benefits AI could potentially provide.

Anonymous Coward says:

Remote Controlled Sybians.

So, strapping a dildo on an RC car and chasing someone around was never done before 1998?

But seriously, there were Sybians that were attached by wire (or radio controlled) by an operator several feet away, and sometimes even behind one-way glass. This was in the late 80s/early 90s, but definitely way before 1998.

Sheogorath (profile) says:

I remember once reading a gay erotic story that was written during the early days of the World Wide Web where somebody had a vibrating dildo inside him pretty much 24/7, and it was controlled by someone in the same household who was himself acting under orders he received online. I can no longer find the story, unfortunately, because the person wearing the dildo was an underage boy, and that’s the type of story that search engines and erotic websites purged a few years back. 🙁 Still, wouldn’t that count as prior art?

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

"Over-broad" hardly covers it

“… an acknowledgement that a dildo could be controlled remotely and an attempt to lay claim to that function exclusively.”

Oh, I think this patent covers much more than dildos. As I read it, it covers movies with girls in bikinis, television shows with jiggle, 98.73% of the internet, every porno mag in existence, telephone “amusements”, and whichever hand you favor (with its system of remote control nerve wiring).

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