A new lawsuit filed this month in Washington alleges that the video gaming giant Valve Corporation supposedly stole a design feature it implemented in its Steam Controller from a smaller tech company that has connections to the controller manufacturer SCUF.
The lawsuit states Valve was warned in 2014 that a prototype of its Steam Controller, the company's attempt to move PC gaming into a more console-focused experience, used the same rear-sided control paddles Ironburg Inventions patented that year. It goes on to say that SCUF CEO Duncan Ironmonger saw Valve's Steam Controller prototyped at CES in January not long after learning about the patent. (Ironburg is SCUF's IP-holding arm.) Ironmonger warned Valve staff of the alleged infringement at CES 2014 and wrote the company a letter that March saying the patent was Ironburg "creating a new category of controllers."
In the Zoom trial this week, Ironburg lawyer Robert Becker told the jury that "Valve's intentional disregard of its infringement is at the heart of this case." Becker continued lambasting the gaming giant, referring to the larger Valve as "Goliath" and the smaller Ironburg as "David."
"Valve did know that its conduct involved an unreasonable risk of infringement, but it simply proceeded to infringe anyway," Becker said. "[It's] the classic David and Goliath story: Goliath does what Goliath wants to do."
Valve's lawyer, Trent Webb, refuted these claims. Webb said Ironburg is creating a "skewed viewing angle" and thus asking the jury to make decisions based on an "altered reality."
"Ironburg's case will be based on altered graphics, modified pictures, and skewed viewing angles," Webb said."[A]nd then they'll ask you to make that decision based on an altered reality,"
It's worth noting that the patent, which allows controller manufacturers to place additional buttons on the back of the controller so players can use more than just their index fingers and thumbs to play video games, has since been licensed by Microsoft. The company uses the technology in a variety of its more-premium controllers, like its Xbox Elite Controller lineup.
The Steam Controller, the heart of the lawsuit, went on sale in November 2015. It only lasted on the market for four years, getting discontinued on November 26, 2019.
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