An infamous patent troll relating to sex toys controlled via the internet has finally expired last week. The patent has been widely considered to have held back the development of haptic sex toys (or ‘teledildonics’), and in fact the company behind the patent did sue several different sex toy companies for ‘infringement’ (including, I believe the groundbreaking ‘RealTouch‘ from AEBN). However, the patent does not seem to have held back the nascent industry more recently, as toys such as the Kiiroo testify. Whether or not there will be a rapid increase in the number and sophistication of haptic/virtual sex toys seems to depend more now on the growth and success of virtual reality, and perhaps even more so in the coming years augmented reality.
An illuminating article on the history of the patent can be read here, an extract below :
It all started on 17 August 1998 when three men, Warren J Sandvick, Jim W Hughes, and David Alan Atkinson peeked into the future and saw how humans might get off. No, they didn’t invent a time machine, but they did slap a patent which was broadly implied upon internet-controlled sex toys.The patent was then transferred to Hassex Inc and then to Tzu Technologies in 2015. A sigh of relief swept through the sex-toy innovators on 17 August 2018 as they finally are free of the 20 years long toxic relationship between them and the patent law.
According to an article in Motherboard, Tzu technologies sued and killed several companies by claiming that they violated the patent. One of the companies was an open source vibrator called the Comingle as mentioned in a report in the Vice. Several of the teledonics start up caught in this bombardment were forced to pay more than $50,000 to Tzu.The three men called the patent as “Method and device for interactive virtual control of sexual aids using digital computer networks,” or US Patent Number 6,368,268.In 11 diagrams and with a least exciting explanation about one of the most adrenaline filled activities the patent showed how computers could connect to a device that can be connected to several other devices thus making someone get you off, online making distance purely technical.The patent was so broad that company Tzu was crowned by the Electronic Frontier Foundation as the Stupid Patent of the Month in 2015. “Doing it with a computer (literally) does not make something patentable,” the organisation wrote.A similar notion of letting someone get you off through the internet was described in the Chicago Tribune in an essay by David Rothchild. Called “High-Tech Sex”, five years before the patent took birth.