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.
seriously, how is this claim for a sex toy (priority 1998) not just claiming a telephone being used "creatively"? pic.twitter.com/RwLC8pPpSr— Vera Ranieri (@vranieri) July 23, 2015
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?