It looks as though Microsoft has a bit of a legal situation on its hands in regards to its HoloLens technology.
The software giant stands accused of willfully infringing upon patents held by Connecticut-based HoloTouch. Recent court filings in the Southern District of New York reveal allegations of infringement on at least two holographic imaging tech patents dating back as far as 2006. Making matters worse, it appears that Microsoft even acknowledged HoloTouch's patents as "prior art" in a 2013 patent filing of its own.
The technology in question covers a variety of touchless controls for a range of industries, including "ATMs, automotive equipment, aviation devices, consumer electronics, gaming equipment, home appliances, kiosks, leisure products, medical and military equipment."
The story, as told by HoloTouch, is a familiar one. Little company approaches big company with what it believes to be “new and exciting” technology. Big company ignores little company, builds new product using technology eerily similar to what was pitched by little company years earlier. The little company then demands a licensing deal for the patents it believes big company has been using without permission. Once again, big company ignores little company. Lawsuit is filed by little company seeking a jury trial and triple damages, although no amount was specified in this case.
Commonly referred to as “treble damages,” the request for triple damages stems from the fact that HoloTouch believes Microsoft willfully infringed on the patents in question. The problem is that to establish willful infringement, not only is the patent holder required to prove damages, but it must do so with clear and convincing evidence that the accused knew that its action constituted infringement of a valid patent. The key word here is “valid.”
There are several ways to challenge the validity of a patent, even after it has been granted, without ever stepping into a courtroom. One such legal maneuver would be for Microsoft to seek cancellation of the patents in question altogether. Beyond that, Microsoft has teams of lawyers that are more than familiar with their way around litigation.
Although in these David-and-Goliath scenarios it's hard to imagine the little guy winning out, there is recent precedent in the XR world. Zenimax scored a big legal win against Oculus (which is to say, Facebook), for misappropriating VR trade secrets, to the tune of $500 million.
This is just the first shot fired in what will no doubt be a protracted legal battle between the two companies. With so much riding on this case, it seems fairly obvious that, regardless how the courts rule in this case, an appeal will be filed by whomever comes out on the losing end of the decision.
Microsoft declined to comment for this story.