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Lawsuit Accuses Microsoft Of HoloLens Patent Infringement

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.

  • bit_user
    Not saying it's true in this case, but sometimes "David" turns out to be a patent troll.

    What's more likely is that MS was already developing something similar, which is a perfectly good reason not to acquire or license the other company. This is not so implausible, as the development of Hololens actually stretches back, long before Kinect. However, citing its patents as prior art and then failing to license them was definitely a bad move.
    Reply
  • photonboy
    PATENTS have become a nightmare in general. Some of them are quite vague. The original INTENTION is to protect a company's investment long enough that someone doesn't quickly STEAL their ideas...

    A patent should involve some EFFORT in time and money, and certainly should not be something that is common knowledge (just not done yet)... You know what APPLE patented? How ROUND their phones were on the four edges... that is NOT what a patent is meant for so it's just a mess...

    WORSE perhaps is that many companies are looking for ways to make things that do NOT violate patents which end up being an INFERIOR design.
    Reply
  • mihen
    I really don't like patents and wish they would go back to the original use of patents. 7 years and must be signed by the Secretary of State. Knowledge of a certain technology can help advance society so it would be best for it to be known while the patent holder has 7 years to make use of it.
    It should be restricted to technology and healthcare.
    Reply
  • berezini
    or get rid of patents all together
    Reply
  • shrapnel_indie
    20411653 said:
    Not saying it's true in this case, but sometimes "David" turns out to be a patent troll.

    20412569 said:
    PATENTS have become a nightmare in general. Some of them are quite vague. The original INTENTION is to protect a company's investment long enough that someone doesn't quickly STEAL their ideas...

    20412592 said:
    I really don't like patents and wish they would go back to the original use of patents. 7 years and must be signed by the Secretary of State. Knowledge of a certain technology can help advance society so it would be best for it to be known while the patent holder has 7 years to make use of it.
    It should be restricted to technology and healthcare.

    Yeah, SCO was a known patent troll years ago.... Other times the bigger company squashes the little one with dragging a case out forever (MS has done this very thing in the past) either forcing the little guy to give up or go under.

    Patents have indeed become a nightmare. Between people approving them that have no knowledge in the field the patent has been applied for... between failing a complete background check on the patent.... between (allegations) of big companies paying for a retro-dated patent that usurps the one in question.... between patents on look and feel.... between vague patents.... between perpetual life-time patents.... get the idea? It is indeed a mess.

    Patents are definitely not what they were, and not what they were meant to be. I'd vote for them returning to their roots for life of the patent. TBH, Copyrights are in the same boat. They are not what they were and not what they were meant to be anymore either. Both have been changed to benefit companies beyond reasonable gains.


    Am I against patents and copyrights? Nope. I am against the abuse, and legal modification of the laws that can perpetually monopolize patented and/or copyrighted things, especially things that are beyond any useful commercial life. I also think that it's fine for all fields, not just tech and medical, to be able to patent things... I also think that, in the modern age, if you are a profitable company, you have no real excuse not to develop products on a patent, and sell them... No extensions. Now someone else like an individual with little funds to develop and sell products, sure, they can get ONE extension. Sell a patent to a profitable company? No extensions. Sell to a shell company or a subsidiary, regardless of profitability of that company/subsidiary... NO EXTENSIONS. But... as long as companies lobby (and "buy" legislation)... that will never happen.
    Reply
  • waynes
    Hm, I was trying to get my hands on some advanced vr chips to do something like hololens within three years before the hololens project was even announced to have existed, and bingo, hololens came along. Hopefully it was parallel development (but on a number of occasions those that had opportunity to access my private work cashed in).

    Anyway, I hope this is not the same company that I contacted years ago to ask about their patent coverage quoting prior art from before their patent came out. If it is the same company, I contacted them because I had doubts about the patent in question, but they seemed intent. I can't remember if what was being claimed which I was referring too, was just too obvious. We get problems with patent examiners, on the one hand, they let obvious stuff through. On the other hand, they can be presented with something they, and most people, would not think of because it is so unobvious to them, but because the trolls have seen how it links together, it now is obvious to them and they deny it. But it begs the question, if it was so obvious, then how come everybody isn't doing it? The old saying, "in hindsight" things you wouldn't dream of become obvious. That's what prior art searches are supposed to show.

    Maybe Microsoft quoted the patent in support of something else outside it's granted claims, but the company maybe making claims on something else in the patent which Microsoft didn't realise. What happens sometimes, is companies interpret their parents as covering situations it doesn't seem to cover not come near. Squint your eyes enough and lots of things look like similar blobs you might like to claim IP on. Thanks is the sort of thing that happened in visual design, but intellectually, it is similar in patent IP handling. What can you get away with, what you should not get away with.

    If the criminal law was applied to patents, retrospectively, as it should, then the prisons would find themselves with potentially hundreds of thousands of new customers. But because the law on patents is so light on, the patent system is a mess of corruption. I knew a guy that went through one of the biggest patent calamities, and still nobody in jail, and the criminal law would even have applied in the case.
    Reply
  • irfbhatt
    Big companies are patent trolls, and it was always like this. Small companies are those who are doing investment because they cant bought another small companies.))
    Reply
  • therealduckofdeath
    This is why US is losing. The US is killing domestic innovation with their 19th century patent laws arbitrarily applied to technology and digital representations. Rounded corners. Flat tablet. Bouncing animations. Swipe gesture on touch screens. Holographic rendering on video...
    Reply
  • Sakkura
    The article is incorrect. The court ruled that Oculus did NOT misappropriate trade secrets from Zenimax.

    Also, Zenimax is not a small company by any stretch of the imagination. Probably larger than Oculus itself, though of course nowhere near the size of Facebook.
    Reply
  • mihen
    20414992 said:
    This is why US is losing. The US is killing domestic innovation with their 19th century patent laws arbitrarily applied to technology and digital representations. Rounded corners. Flat tablet. Bouncing animations. Swipe gesture on touch screens. Holographic rendering on video...

    It's not 19th century, it's the extension of patents in the 20th century. The gilded age didn't have nearly as bad a time with patents, especially with the limited communication ability where you actually had to mail things.
    Reply