Hillcrest Labs Claims Nintendo Wii Infringes on its Patents

--Launches Reference Kit, Secures Deal with Kodak

Rockville, Maryland-based Hillcrest Labs (note: earlier this year, the company announced that it had secured $25 million in a fourth round of funding--see [itvt] Issue 7.58 Part 1; it has raised a total of around $50 million to date) says that it has filed a complaint for patent infringement with the US International Trade Commission and also filed a separate patent infringement lawsuit in the US District Court in Maryland against Nintendo. The complaint and lawsuit claim that Nintendo's Wii video game system infringes on three Hillcrest patents (US #'s 7,158,118, 7,262,760, and 7,414,611) which describe technologies for a handheld three-dimensional pointing device, and on US patent #7,139,983, which describes a navigation interface display system that graphically organizes content for display on a television. Hillcrest is asking the ITC--which has now begun an investigation of its claims--to ban imports of the Wii into the US. In a statement on the legal action it is taking, Hillcrest said that "while [it] has a great deal of respect for Nintendo and the Wii, [it] believes that Nintendo is in clear violation of its patents and has taken action to protect its intellectual property rights." The statement went on to say that "given the current status of the filings, the company will not disclose any additional details about the matter at this time."

The patents at issue are related to Hillcrest's flagship pointing and motion-control technology, Freespace. The technology is designed for use in advanced TV remote controls, including the company's own pointer-based, reference-device remote, dubbed the Loop, which allows navigation of TV services using just two buttons and a scroll wheel. The company bills the technology as enabling pay-TV operators and consumer electronics manufacturers to embed motion control and pointing capabilities into a wide range of devices (such as PC mice and game controllers, in addition to TV remotes) and form factors. It offers it in conjunction with an application-creation platform, called HoME, which it bills as allowing "digital content from any source to be displayed on a television using a graphical, zoomable user interface that can be embedded in a wide range of consumer electronic devices." Hillcrest has previously announced licensing deals for Freespace with remote control manufacturer, UEI, and mouse manufacturer, Logitech: in the statement announcing its lawsuit against Nintendo, it said that it has not publicly disclosed all the "leading consumer electronics companies" that have licensed the software to date. The company claims to hold a total of 29 patents worldwide, and says that it has filed for over 100 patents.

According to Hillcrest, Freespace-enabled pointing devices use digital signal processing algorithms that rely on gravity and other inertial inputs to determine their position in the air. The algorithms translate motion instantaneously, and automatically adjust for natural hand tremors, the company says. Unlike gyroscope-based technologies, Hillcrest claims, Freespace-enabled devices work regardless of directional orientation; and, unlike optical pointing solutions, do not require users to aim them directly at the television set or set-top box.

In other Hillcrest Labs news:

  • The company has launched a HoME Reference Kit (HRK) for companies looking to develop devices that incorporate its core technologies. According to the company, the HRK offers both HoME and Freespace in a high-end set-top box, in order to enable developers to prototype and build digital media applications that can be controlled by pointing. Previously, companies had to license HoME and Freespace separately and then develop products using their own hardware. According to Hillcrest, the HRK comes pre-loaded with Hillcrest's HoME application suite, which includes photo and personal video management, personal music management, games, broadband media and more. Since HoME is an open application creation platform, Hillcrest says, the HRK is also available with a software development kit which developers can use to built applications that use the company's "Zoomable Markup Language" (ZML). The company claims that programmers who are familiar with developing standard HTML Web pages can easily develop applications with ZML because both use Javascript and are similarly structured. In addition, the HRK includes Hillcrest's Loop remote control, embedded with Freespace. The Standard Edition of the HRK is available today for $500 and the Developer Edition (i.e. the version that incorporates the SDK) is available for $1,500.
  • The company says that Eastman Kodak has become the first company to license both HoME and Freespace for use together in a consumer product. Kodak is using the technologies in its new Kodak Theatre HD Player, which launches in the US this month. "It is important to Kodak to partner with innovative companies that complement Kodak technologies," Julie Gerstenberger, Kodak's director of external alliances, said in a prepared statement. "Hillcrest Labs' unique 3-D like applications and motion control technology offer compelling advantages, and we're pleased to have licensed its technologies."