Tuesday, February 8, 2011

LG wants the PlayStation 3 banned from entry into the US market, files ITC complaint against Sony over Blu-ray patents

Yesterday LG Electronics announced that it lodged a patent infringement complaint against Sony with the US International Trade Commission on Friday (February 4, 2011). LG asks the ITC, a US government agency with quasi-judicial authority, to permanently exclude the PlayStation 3 video game console from entry into the US market because of the alleged infringement of four LG patents related to the playback of Blu-ray Discs.

The complaint broadly relates to "certain electronic devices having a Blu-Ray Disc player and components thereof", but the PlayStation 3 (Model No. CECH-2501A) is the only Sony product to be specifically named in the main document of the complaint. According to a Bloomberg report, LG simultaneously filed another complaint against Sony over its Bravia television sets. The ITC Law Blog has details on that one. I will focus on the PS3-related complaint here.

What we're seeing here is retaliation. At the end of December, Sony filed an ITC complaint against LG, seeking an import ban for a list of mobile phones. On January 27, 2011, the ITC voted to investigate that complaint, as I mentioned in my previous post. Now LG -- which boasts in its complaint that it owns 90,000 patents and patent applications on a worldwide basis -- is striking back at the PlayStation 3.

It's like "you touch my smartphones and I bomb your game console."

This pattern has a precedent: after Microsoft sued Motorola in October over its Android-based phones, Motorola filed an ITC complaint over the Xbox 360 in November, and in a new suit filed shortly before Christmas, Motorola also attacked the Kinect controller. I recently produced a visualization of the battlelines between those two companies.

Concerning retaliation, there's some confusion as to whether Sony has previously sued LG over Blu-ray Disc patents. When Sony lodged its complaint in December, several reports (all of which may have echoed the same original article) stated that Sony's complaint also tackled LG's Blu-ray Disc players. However, that claim was made before the complaint became publicly available. I looked at it later, and its paragraph 13 states that "[t]he products at issue in this investigation are certain mobile telephones and modems manufactured by [LG]." I suppose it was just someone's speculation that LG's Blu-ray Disc players were also targeted. But now that LG has opened the Blu-ray can of worms, who knows how Sony may feel compelled to respond. From what I hear, the patent situation surrounding Blu-ray is a constant challenge for the consumer electronics industry.

The video game console market is large enough on its own that a certain level of patent assertion activity is just normal. Nintendo's Wii was also the subject of an ITC investigation a couple of years ago. Hillcrest Labs complained in 2008, and the matter was settled in September 2009. But LG's action against the PlayStation 3 and Motorola's attacks on the Xbox 360 and the Kinect controller appear to have been triggered by previous suits over smartphones. In those disputes, video game consoles seem to be drawn into wider conflicts as a secondary theater of war.

[Update 1] I have now obtained a copy of a complaint filed on the same day (Friday, February 4, 2011) by LG against Sony with the US District Court of the Southern District of California. The case number is 3:11-cv-00247. In that suit, LG asserts six patents (different ones than the ones asserted in the ITC complaint). The accused products include but go well beyond the PlayStation 3. They furthermore include computers such as the Sony VAIO EA, EB and/or X series PCs; digital cameras such as the Sony Model Numbers A55 and TX9; camcorders such as the Sony HDR-XR550; and Blu-ray Discs, such as a PS3 game named "Hot Shots Golf Out of Bounds".

[Update 2] A second, parallel, complaint filed with the same court in Southern California relates to HDTV (high-definition television) products, particularly the Bravia TV sets and some Sony digital cameras. The case number is 3:11-cv-00248. As a starting point for any research into that one, I recommend the related Priorsmart page.

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