Despite some very good image management Nintendo has never been quite the hardware innovator that people paint them as. In fact, the Big N got its start in the video game business not making its own machines, but distributing consoles like the Magnavox Odyssey in Japan and re-appropriating stock arcade boards to make new games like Donkey Kong. That’s the company’s tech legacy: Re-appropriating good ideas like touch screens and making them new and exciting in machines like the Nintendo DS. It’s rarely been accused of flat out stealing ideas, however. The Nintendo 3DS’ patented glasses-free stereoscopic 3D screen is apparently the rare example. Turns out the glasses-free tech isn’t patented by Nintendo at all, and as a result, the 3DS manufacturer has been found guilty of patent infringement.
Former Sony employee and inventor Saejiro Tomita is the actual inventor of the 3D display technology used in the Nintendo 3DS. Tomita sued Nintendo for infringement in 2011, and the jury in a U.S. District Court in New York decided on Wednesday that the house of Mario has indeed used Tomita’s technology without his permission or fair compensation, and the company must now pay him $30.2 million in damages.
Nintendo did not deny that it had consulted with Tomita about his technology. He brought his glasses-free display technology to Nintendo back in 2003, a period when Nintendo was still prototyping the 3DS’ predecessor, Nintendo DS. Nintendo’s defense was that it had met with many different display creators at the time before moving forward nearly a decade later with the actual tech in the 3DS.
While patent infringement accusations against Nintendo are rare, they have happened before. Tech company Hillcrest accused Nintendo of copying its technology that let “users select items on a screen by waving a handheld device” in its now iconic Wii remote. The International Trade Commission acquitted Nintendo of infringing on anyone else’s patents with the remote though, in Hillcrest’s case in 2008 and again in 2011 when ThinkOptics brought similar charges against the company.
Interestingly enough, Nintendo received the Wii remote’s motion control technology from an independent inventor not unlike Saejiro Tomita. California inventor Tom Quinn shopped around his gyroscope-based motion control tech to all the video game console companies back in 2001, but only Nintendo expressed interest. In fact, Quinn said that Nintendo was the only company even cordial to him, with both Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation hardware teams laughing him out of the room.