On 2nd December 2014, Philips issued a statement that they had agreed to enter a cross-licence agreement in which Philips would end its patent infringement proceedings in the UK, Germany, France and the US against Nintendo in relation to Nintendo’s Wii and Wii U games consoles. Opposition proceedings in the European Patent Office against the subject Philips European patents have also been withdrawn by Nintendo.
Back in June 2014, Mr. Justice Birss at the Patents Court of England and Wales found that Nintendo’s Wii and Wii U games consoles infringed Philips European patent No. EP1573498 and EP2093650. Both European patents broadly related to handheld pointing devices used to control electrical apparatus (the ‘650 European patent is a divisional of the ‘498 European patent). The questions considered by the court were whether the patents were valid (a third European patent, European patent No. EP08808484 asserted by Philips was found not to be valid) and whether, and in what circumstances, Nintendo’s Wii and Wii U games consoles infringed the patents. This was a complicated case with many validity issues including novelty, inventive step, added subject-matter and double-patenting considered by the court.
Philips’ enormous patent portfolio is legendary (their website claims a patent portfolio of 59,000 patent rights including approximately 1,500 new patent applications filed in 2012) and, in this case, they had a shown that their patents were valid and infringed in the courts. Nevertheless, Philips settled with Nintendo with a cross-licence agreement involving part of their respective patent portfolios. This seems to reflect the power of defensive patents to provide a vehicle to settle disputes even against the largest patent proprietors.
We’ve seen growing demand for patents in the computer games industry over the last few years and our team have built-up deep experience in this legally and technically complex area. Clearly, valid patents are obtainable for computer game technology in Europe, but European patent applications need to be properly framed to best avoid the possibility that they may be considered to relate to unpatentable computer programs as such, for example. The settlement between Philips and Nintendo reflects that those with patents are in a strong position even against the biggest players.
This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking any action in reliance on it.