Ironburg Inventions, the IP holder of SCUF controllers, files a lawsuit against Valve for alleged patent infringement in its Steam Controller design.
Valve Corporation is facing a new lawsuit this month, which alleges that the video game developer and Steam founder plagiarized its Steam Controller design from a smaller company. According to the suit filed in Washington, Valve received a warning about the copied prototype design in 2014, but went ahead and released the controller anyway. A trial against Valve began this week via Zoom.
Valve’s Steam Controller was released in November 2015 for use with PCs running Steam, the video game digital distribution service. It was meant not only for games that traditionally called for playing with controllers, but also those which used a keyboard and mouse to give players a more console-like experience. The Steam Controller featured two clickable trackpads in place of traditional joysticks as well as multiple buttons, including ones on the rear side of the unit. Valve’s creation launched alongside its Steam Machine, a series of pre-built gaming computers, and 1.6 million controller units were sold. The Steam Controller lasted only four years until its discontinuation in 2019.
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The Steam Controller’s use of rear buttons to engage more fingers was seen as innovative, but Valve was allegedly not the first company to have the idea. According to Law360, Ironburg Inventions, the IP holder of controller manufacturer SCUF, patented a controller with rear-sided buttons in 2014. Valve was allegedly warned about the patent, but SCUF CEO Duncan Ironmonger still saw Valve’s Steam Controller prototype with the same features at CES the following January. The suit states that again, Ironmonger warned Valve staffers of the patent, and even went on to write a letter to Valve explaining the infringement, but to no avail. “Valve did know that its conduct involved an unreasonable risk of infringement, but it simply proceeded to infringe anyway,” said Ironburg Inventions’ lawyer, Robert Becker, during a Zoom trial on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Valve’s lawyer, Trent Webb, argued that Ironburg Inventions’ suit is based on an “altered reality.” He went on to say that the case involves “altered graphics, modified pictures, and skewed viewing angles.” Webb also noted that the Steam Controller’s rear features did not fit the patent’s outline, as Ironburg Inventions’ design covered the full area of the controller back, while the Steam Controller’s design did not. Jury members will reportedly each be mailed Steam Controllers so they can hold and feel the design, which Webb claimed was altered in photos for the case.
It’s important to note that Microsoft licensed Ironburg Inventions’ patent and rear buttons are now used on select Xbox controllers for more than $150 each. In other words, Valve could have used the design if they had just gone about it properly. Ironburg Inventions does seem to have a stronger case here, but since Valve is a huge company in comparison, it may have an advantage. In any event, Valve is already on to other things: the developer filed a patent for a new Steam controller with swappable components back in April.
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