The day is here that the teledildonics industry has been eagerly waiting for – On August 17, 2018, U.S. Patent No. 6,368,268, coined the “teledildonics patent” will expire. This patent has embroiled many SexTech companies in patent infringement lawsuits, stopping them in their tracks as they attempted to create high tech pleasure devices. For those who couldn’t pay licensing fees, there would be no pleasure – The suits were the end of the road, pushing them out of business.
The “teledildonics patent,” initially owned by listed inventors, Warren Sandvick and two others, covers the basic technology of remote/computer-controlled sex toys. The patent was transferred to Hassex, Inc., and most recently to Tzu Technologies, LLC. Tzu is a “non-practicing entity” (“NPE”), meaning that it owns the patent, but has produced no covered product. Non-practicing entities are referred to as “patent trolls,” by people who believe it is wrong for a company to sue or threaten to sue others for infringement while producing no product itself.
In 2015, Tzu brought several lawsuits against the following small sex toy companies:
- – Comingle, LLC, which created an open source high-tech dildo (which never made it to market) that they named the “Mod”
- – Happy Haptics, Inc. d/b/a Frixion, which produced an online software platform for virtual sex
- – Holland Haptics BV, which provides the “Frebble,” a device for on-line handholding
- – Internet Services LLC and WMM Holdings, LLC, makes of the “RealTouch,” a male masturbator device
- – Vibease, which makes a remote controlled vibrator
- – Winzz, LLC, which made the “LovePalz” vibrator for sex between long-distance partners
Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform, was also sued that year. However, on October 2, 2015, the case was dropped. Tzu had accused Kickstarter of infringement based on its role as the crowdfund platform for Holland Haptics’ Frebble project. When Kickstarter indicated it would battle it out on principle rather than pay a nuisance settlement, Tzu eventually dropped the suit (without dropping the suit against Frebble).
On June 30, 2016, Winzz, LLC was held liable for patent infringement after it failed to respond and defend itself against the complaint. U.S. District Judge John A. Kronstadt ordered the defunct company to pay $56,100.71 in damages. On November 23, 2016, a judgement of $50,000 was entered against Happy Haptics by the same judge for similarly not replying to the suit. The other above-mentioned lawsuits appear to have been settled, but the terms were not disclosed in the court documents.
In July of 2017, Tzu returned to the sex toy scene. It sued sex-toy powerhouse, LELO, based on its remote-controlled vibrators, including its TIANI™ line, IDA™, ODEN™ 2, HULA Beads™, LYLA™ 2, and HUGO™. The case was eventually dropped on December 12, 2017. Then, on December 29, 2017, Tzu brought suit against SayberX for its hand-held stimulator, the X-Ring, and SayberX mobile applications (IOS and Android app) for interacting with the X-Ring. In May of 2018, the case was dismissed based on a settlement agreement. Although the exact terms of the settlement were not disclosed, from the court documents, it does appear a sum of money was paid to Tzu.
As you can see from this history, many patent infringement suits were brought over the “teledildonics patent” against companies unable to license the technology. The patent’s expiration will open the gates for entrepreneurs to be able to innovate in teledildonics without fear of the same fate as their predecessors, such as Comingle and Winzz, who had to abandon their projects because of the lawsuits.
Sadly, in the minds of many players in the SexTech industry, the “teledildonics patent” seemed to stifle innovation. However, as a patent attorney, I can assure you that this outcome is the exception and not the rule. A patent system is crucial for the advancement of innovation. Our forefathers appreciated this, as on April 10, 1790, only a year after the U.S. Constitution was ratified, America’s first Patent Act was passed.
Modern U.S. patent law awards 20 years of protection to a person or company that has developed a novel and useful invention. That person or company (or an entity to which the patent is transferred) has the right to exclude others from making or selling the invention during that period. Without such an incentive, why would anyone spend the time and money to innovate? Think about it….
Today, the sex toy field lags behind other industries in terms of the extent and quality of high tech development. This is not just because of the “teledildonics patent” though. A major additional reason is that the stigma associated with sex and sex toys kept a lot of talent out. That stigma has also made investors weary of getting involved in new SexTech ventures, and as we all know, you need money to make money. Luckily, that stigma is fading these days.
Now that the “teledildonics patent” is cleared from the path, it is likely that new companies will enter the gates. These innovators will probably even obtain patents of their own. The race will be on to create the most fantastic orgasmic experience imaginable over an internet connection. As the use of sex toys is becoming more accepted by mainstream consumers, the demand for products is exploding. That means there will be great payout for new toys that can make all of our wet dreams come true!
For more information on the expiration of the teledildonics patent:
“Expiration of Major Cybersex Patent Could Set Off Explosive Innovation” by David Z. Morris for Fortune on August 18, 2018.
“Cybersex Toy Industry Heats Up As Infamous ‘Teledildonics’ Patent Expires Tomorrow” by Cyrus Farivar for Ars Technica on August 18, 2018.
“Teledildonics Startups are Pumped This Cockblocking Patent Is Dead” by Melanie Ehrenkranz for Gizmodo on August 17, 2018.
“Now you can tell someone to literally go f–k themselves over the internet: Remote-control mock-cock patent dies” by Shaun Nichols for The Register.
“Teledildonics Patent Rides Off Into the Sunset Tomorrow” by Rhett Pardon for XBiz on August 16, 2018.
“The End of the 268 Teledildonics Patent” by Kyle Machulis for his Metafetish blog on August 16, 2018.
“Are You Ready for a Sex Toy Revolution” by Sex Toy Historian, Hallie Lieberman, and me in OZY on August 7, 2018.
“The Teledildonics Patent“, my first article on this blog from September of 2016.