Sex Tech Patent Scuppers Cyber Sex Toys & Future Sex Tech
This week has been more hectic than stressful than any I can remember in recent years. As a person who works with the adult retail sector across many levels, I have been hit hard by the recent uproar in sex tech patent trolling. If you haven’t caught the story, a US patent filed in 1998 is set to shake up the sex toy world thanks to its obscure and frankly ridiculous patenting of any sex toy that stimulates remotely using a digital signal.
It’s not unusual for inventors to patent an idea without developing it, hurdles in the form of money, tech and innovation tend to make many ideas obsolete before they get off the ground. What we have with this patent appears to be more heinous. It doesn’t appear that the owner ever had the means, knowledge or ability to execute his ideas. He’s been sitting on the document waiting to sue for damages, it’s a total dick move.
The patent covers the USA, so it isn’t a worldwide issue at this stage. However it’s worth noting that sex toy manufacturers tend to sell globally and losing one of the largest markets in the world is incredibly damaging to a product – especially if you’re a new company who only have potentially patent-infringing products in your range. All of the big names in sex toy manufacturing are set for upheaval. The likes of We-Vibe, Fleshlight, Je Joue, Vibease and Kiiroo are balls deep in this issue. Depending on how strongly the courts uphold the patent, anyone using an infrared, bluetooth, internet or other digital signal to control their sex toys could be in a veritable vat of shit.
Let’s forgo the fact that sex toys using a digital signal were created in science fiction as far back as the 60s (Barberella, anyone?). What really irks me is that using a digital signal to create sexual stimulation far pre-dates the patent in question. Infrared is a digital signal and the invention, manufacturer and general sale of remote-controlled sex toys utilising infrared far precede the filed patent. How can they patent an idea already in use and general production?
You could argue that the patent includes the use of the internet to create stimulation, but this would surely exclude bluetooth signals given that they fall under the same parameters as infrared as a digital signal? I don’t know of many products on the market that plug directly into the internet without a secondary digital signal activating the toy, something not mentioned anywhere in the patent. An app might translate an instruction received by the internet, but its output is a blutooth or infrared signal – the thing that sends information to the toy after the internet message is received.
I have enough experience in law to know that there will be cases that distinguish from the set patent case laws, specifically where an abstract idea is filed and there are potential legal challenges (in the form of existing products, in this instance) to the legitimacy of the document.
I would implore any manufacturer with an infrared toy pre-dating the patent to challenge the legitimacy of the document in the first instance. If you’re one of the brands affected by the suit, or likely to be affected in the future – seek out your fellow victims and form an alliance. Lawsuits against patent infringement can be expensive and could make or break a product that is fresh to the market or worse, at pre-release stage. It is possible for you to bring a case together against the legitimacy of the patent and given the cost of defending and potential royalties you’d have to give away if the patent holders agree to ‘licensing’, you’re better off going in together if you’re going in all-guns blazing.
Every now and then, a story continues developing and a variety of people contribute insightful comments. Below you’ll find some of my favourite commentary and counteractions in respect of the court cases brought against sex tech manufacturers:
Matthew Methedreame: I thought patents were intended to protect ways of doing something, not just the idea of the “doing” e.g. one should be able to patent a specific kind of aircraft but not just “a vehicle to fly in”. In other words, the system, as it is currently being used, is shit! This patent seems to be specifically related to sex devices, so the way around it is to sell the same kind of thing but with an ostensibly alternative usage. This approach could work particularly well if the product utilises existing technology from something else – I came up with a basic design to use the mechanism from a remote controlled CCTV system with movable camera.
– Hella Rude