Patent law is a tricky minefield to navigate. Companies are clearly entitled to protect the rights of technology they created. However, a less than clear system has also presented a way for so called patent trolls to make a quick buck. Microsoft has been the target of these, but is a new suit filed against HoloLens legitimate?
HoloTouch, a company that specializes in “human-machine interface technology” has filed a suit against Microsoft. The Southern District of New York filing suggests Microsoft knowingly infringed on two patents when developing HoloLens.
“Our company will vigorously pursue its statutory remedies against all who take advantage of our innovative technology without the compensation provided by law, particularly in light of current fascination with touchless, holographic controls and operation of devices using them across commercial spectra,” the company said in a press release.
The Connecticut-based company is also likely to target other companies that have used the technology. Interestingly, the patents have been around for over a decade. One from 2002 and one from 2004, both relating to how users can interact with holographic images:
Patent 238 delivers a “means by which an operator may control one or more devices without touching a solid control object or surface while still interacting with familiar controls that are visually perceived, such as a keyboard.”
Patent 245 focused on human-machine interfaces (HMI) based on holograms and could allow “the reduction of the power consumption, size and weight of conventional holographic HMIs.”
The big question here is whether Microsoft wilfully infringed the patents. There is the chance the company did not infringe on any patent, so it will be interesting to see the official response. HoloTouch wants a jury trial and Microsoft to pay triple the damages.
In the case notes, the company says it contacted Microsoft in November 2015 and January 2016. Microsoft responded but did not agree to a licensing deal. Interestingly, HoloTouch had previously sought a partnership with Microsoft in 2006, long before HoloLens was developed.
Trolling or Not?
As I mentioned, it is always hard to know if a company is a patent troll or not. When the case if between giants like Apple and Samsung, it is usually clearer cut. However, there are smaller companies simply making a living off getting companies to make settlement payments to avoid costly legal battles.
There is certainly no evidence that HoloTouch falls into this bracket, but we will see how this plays. Last month, a company sued Microsoft (and LG) for supposedly infringing patents used in the Lumia 950 devices. That case is still ongoing.