Remember that time Nintendo Paid $30 Million for Patent Infringement?

You know what they say: you’re not really a company worth any money until someone is trying to sue you. Then again, it can be a stark reminder of how much more bigger companies stand to lose when they make a mistake or don’t look at the details. Maybe they should say that you’re not really a company until you’re too big to prevent mistakes that number way beyond what any one person could count. Is that what happened to Nintendo, though? No patent infringement case is simple–if they were, they probably wouldn’t end up in court.

When it comes to intellectual property, the court is where we go to determine precedent. These are complicated issues with murky, sometimes impossible-to-follow laws, and so it’s up to the judicial system to figure out the difference between right and wrong. In June of 2011, Tomita Technologies International, Inc. filed a claim against Nintendo because it believed the giant had stolen a patent for part of its 3D technology: “Stereoscopic image picking up and display system based upon optical axes cross-point information”, to be exact. Is that an accurate technical description of advanced 3D technology, or was someone on drugs? You decide.

The technology in question was novel because it didn’t require the use of 3D glasses to experience the effect–you know, the kind you find at 3D movies. Although the case description didn’t provide any background on how exactly Nintendo infringed upon Tomita’s creative tech, it doesn’t take a mad scientist to figure it out. Before Seijiro Tomita–a 30 year veteran of Sony until he parted ways with the company in 2002–applied for and was licensed with the patent in question, he showcased the technology in question to the good folks at Nintendo. Subsequent to this demonstration, Nintendo requested a sample.

When Tomita asked for a licensing agreement, that was that. Communication was cut off for nearly a decade.

The court sided with Tomita after both sides presented their arguments. Tomita believes Nintendo knowingly and willfully stole his patent, and Nintendo couldn’t do much to dissuade the judge that it hadn’t. Most damning of all was the fact that four Nintendo developers who were present at Tomita’s original tech demonstration were an integral part of Nintendo’s production of the 3DS handheld. That didn’t look so good.

Tomita’s legal representation wasn’t asking for much, all things considered, if the patent was knowingly and willfully stolen. They wanted just $9.80 of each 3DS that has been sold, and the systems can cost the consumer hundreds.

It’s important to keep an open mind, though. With all the technical details of each case, it can be hard to sort out the truth unless you’re experienced in the field. Even then, it can be rough. Nintendo says that such demonstrations of 3D tech were common when Tomita made his. Who can say if anything really was stolen?

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