Impulse Technology Ltd. is suing Nintendo, EA, Ubisoft, Konami, Majesco, and Namco Bandai for copyright infringement, citing patent 5,524,637 (“the ‘637 patent”) filed in July 1996 entitled “Interactive System For Measuring Physiological Exertion.” The patent is for a device described as such:
A system is provided for monitoring the physiological exertion of a user. One or more sensors are attached to the limbs of the user to measure the user’s motion. The sensors can measure either the acceleration or the force on the limbs. The measured signal is transmitted to a monitor by a wireless transmitter, such as an infrared, acoustic or radio transmitter. The monitor determines and displays the level of physiological exertion of the user by a mathematical formula or a look up table based on the measured motion of the user. The system can also measure and display various other physiological parameters of the user, such as pulse rate, blood pressure, etc. The system includes an interactive video display with a branching video sequence. The rate of progress and the direction of the video sequence at each of the branching points are interactively controlled by the level of physiological exertion and the movements of the user. The system can also record and display the level of physiological exertion and other physiological parameters of the user over time to create a personal exercise log.
This describes the Trazer InterActive Fitness Machine, an “exercise simulator” that tracks a person’s movement to move an avatar on screen. Impluse claims that games like Nintendo’sWii Fit Plus, Electronic Arts’s EA Sports Active 2.0, Ubisoft’s Gold’s Gym Cardio Workout, THQ’s UFC Personal Trainer: The Ultimate Fitness System, Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution Hottest Party 3, Majesco’s Zumba Fitness 2, and Namco Banai’s Exerbeat all violate copyright when used with any of the Wii-related products.
The company has also filed suit with Microsoft and other companies for its Kinect software, though for violations of different patents. According to Patent Examiner, for the past five years, either Trazer or Impulse has been sending letters to each of the game developers notifying them of the alleged infringement, according to the complaint. It’s unclear whether any of the companies responded.
Analysis: The first thing I thought was this: You’d think people would learn after a while. Our own Joshua Moore has reported on how UltimatePointer LLC and ThinkOptics LLC suing Nintendo, both of which will probably end up losing as Nintendo has already defeated Guardian Media Technologies, Fenner Investments, and Nyko on similar charges.
Then I thought again. This patent was filed in 1996, and aside from the crazy straps everywhere that I assume send signals to the television, the Trazer InterActive Fitness Machine does seem like it could work similarly to a Wii. I wouldn’t know how similarly, though, without understanding exactly how each product works. But even if they do work similarly, does anyone remember Nintendo’s Family Fun Fitness? That was released in 1986 and is pretty similar to the Wii Balance Board and the DDR mat. That predates the 1996 patent, surely.
I have to wonder. This is a small company that holds a patent that could or could not be similar to the products of the people they’re suing. These people have already sued Microsoft for the Kinect. When they did this, they also sued EA, Sega, and Konami; yet Konami and EA are on the list for Nintendo’s suit, too. Sounds like they’re trying to go for double or nothing.
My question is this: if they really had a legitimate case, why did they wait so long to sue? The Wii has been out since 2006, and they’ve been apparently sending them letters for five years. Don’t you think they would have gotten the hint after the first one or two years? I have the sneaking suspicion that Impulse just waited to see if the Wii and later Kinect would get anywhere, and now that they have, Impulse wants to sue for profits. I think it’s bogus if you actually believe in the product you’ve made to pull stunt like that, though I suppose it could make business sense.
They may have the best case so far considering the patent dates, but something just smells really funny about this.