You may have heard of a lawsuit being filed against Nintendo, by Seijiro Tomita. He used to work for Sony, but was inventing in the early 00’s a method of displaying a 3D image on a screen without the need for glasses of any kind. He met with Nintendo, obviously looking around for what would later become the 3DS, but they settled with a technology patented and owned by Sharp. Seijiro Tomita believes Nintendo may have stolen some or all of his ideas, perhaps shared them with Sharp to improve their technology, and is now taking Nintendo to court for a cut of $9.80 of each 3DS sold, as well as future sales as well. Considering the 3DS has sold 29.84 million units, that equates to a lump sum target of $292 million.
It seems like a patents issue, and ostensibly, it is one. He’s clearly targeting for the maximum potential income from this – it’s easier and more profitable potentially to get a cut of each 3DS sale than to take on Sharp and its own patent and maybe possibly see a couple of million dollars. I generally stand by the idea that he probably should be taking on Sharp first – proving that their patent was revised or modified in light of his technology – before taking on Nintendo. At that point the guy has a stronger case, and he can argue that Nintendo facilitated the theft of his own patent and intellectual properties. Taking on Nintendo first seems a bit early and a little bit too ambitious considering his case is, really, not that strong without that evidence. All Nintendo have to argue is that they used the patented technology of Sharp, they looked around at many options before coming to that decision, and that the case against them is frankly without foundation. It’s not like Nintendo would lose if they did lose – any decent lawyer would prepare for eventualities like this, and if not then Nintendo would equally have a strong case against Sharp for selling them stolen properties, easily getting most if not all of its money back.
Patent disputes are messy and complicated and it sometimes hinges on one or two components of a design. It’s very expensive and very time consuming. Depending on when he filed matters to a judge too, as if he waited for the Nintendo 3DS to sell a few units before filing the suit, then he might be up a creek sans paddle – judges themselves are getting tired of disputes over technology and designs which have been on the market for years. This is another one of those messy cases. It is unlikely that Seijiro Tomita will succeed – he may be hoping Nintendo would prefer a quick out of court settlement over a lengthy court case – but that’s his problem.
What I find quite distasteful personally is that media outlets have loaded the discussion against Nintendo in a very cynical way.
Seijiro Tomita suffered a stroke some years ago. He is a 58-year-old man who now requires a wheelchair. He is disabled. And the problem is pretty blindingly obvious to anyone with half a braincell – it’s easy to paint Nintendo as a bad guy for defending itself in court against a disabled man. The fact that Seijiro Tomita is disabled isn’t relevant to the case at all. His personal health is not pertinent to what the case entails – did Nintendo facilitate his ideas to Sharp to improve their technology, or is this a simple case of patents which may once again be so disturbingly similar to each other that the USOPT will once again be looked at with disdain and suspicion? His personal condition right now isn’t news worthy, or even holds any value in the discussion at all.
What it does is that it sends the whole issue into a sense of pity for Seijiro Tomita. People will wonder and ask how Nintendo could steal technology patents from a disabled inventor (who was obviously not disabled when he met with Nintendo). They will take that beating stick that the gaming media at large has for Nintendo and proceed to beat it up before any case has been heard. Nintendo is guilty, guilty of being dicks.
Except, isn’t Seijiro Tomita also being a dick here too?
As I said earlier, he is suing Nintendo first. This seems odd, but there are very good reasons why he would take on Nintendo. 292 million reasons, actually, and still counting. He may be disabled, but that does not preclude him from the very basic human compulsion of greed. He’s going after the big bucks first, which to me seems very strange because I’d personally rather take on Sharp, win that case and then look at Nintendo and think, “Yeah, that’ll set me up for life!” To me that just seems like the most logical, sensible route. The one that makes the most sense. But he has instead opted to bite off possibly a bit more than he can chew. Hey, it happens, nobody is perfect after all, but it doesn’t make his case any stronger that he is disabled. I find that a little bit cynical.
I also think it’s very cynical for the gaming press to report on it in such a way that it seems it is the fault of Nintendo before any case has been heard in court. It’s very possible – more than likely, even – that Nintendo will walk out of court without paying a penny to Seijiro Tomita. Justice still works on an innocent until proven guilty edge, but the way we have become as a society means we prefer to be judge, jury and executioners without the need for a trial. We revel in the tittle-tattle, the gossip. We take a detail like the plaintiff being disabled, and we ask ourselves how anyone could sit there and fight such a man in court! It’s easy to buy into the sob story, to be hoodwinked by compassion. It adds an extra dimension to the report – unfortunately, that added dimension tilts the discussion firmly in the direction of the disabled person in this case. Who cares about innocent until proven guilty? Many people have already made up their minds. Not that many gamers need an excuse to beat on Nintendo, but hell, they’ve got one here and by damn they’re going to use it for years to come!
More and more I find myself becoming more and more annoyed at people thinking they’re helping, but they’re not. I resent in some regards the assumption that I am “pathetic”, that I need their help. Two guys offer to help me up some steps into the bank – but it’s not even a minute extra to hobble around and up the ramp! You know, the thing designed for us disabled people to use? I don’t feel angry, but it’s embarrassing. It makes me feel less human as a result. Less independent. Less… me. Yes, I have to accept my body is broken and it’s not getting any better but you know what? I’m one of hundreds of thousands in this country. I’ve done what I can, I worked for a living, I did everything to my best ability. Genetics in my case crept up on me, and clearly missed a generation in order to land me in the soup. But blergh, I learn from it. I am still me. And if anyone annoys me, I’m walking around with one or two steel bars under my hands which, in a pinch, can extend my bitch-slap range by several feet.
I can maybe understand the argument that it is a fact that Seijiro Tomita is disabled. It’s an unavoidable truth that he turned up in court in a wheelchair. I get that. We can’t really hide from the problem. He has a wheelchair, I have two big crutches and will eventually need a wheelchair – it’s noticeable. But in the interests of fair and unbiased reporting, isn’t it also perhaps true that we should then point out that no case has yet been heard? That Nintendo is still innocent until found guilty? Whilst it may be a fact – it’s a fact that skews the argument. Human beings are… well, mostly idiots, granted, but as a species we are also compassionate and we yearn to help others, or sympathise with others. We feel less alone in a pack like that. We feel connected. The problem is that invariably we take sides in arguments and debates that don’t really concern us, and we complicate them in the process. We make a mess of everything because we feel like we need to stand up for the likes of Seijiro Tomita, in his wheelchair, against the big bad army of lawyers that Nintendo and it’s umpteen-billions can afford.
He was smart enough to make this technology, smart enough to patent it and smart enough that Nintendo expressed an interest in it, even if they may not have used it. Even with the stroke, Seijiro Tomita does not sound like an idiot. He sounds like a very smart, very shrewd, very intelligent man who understands exactly what he’s getting into. Perhaps not the best way, or the sensible way, but it’s his choice and he is smart and capable enough to file the lawsuit and turn up in court. He is no doubt also comfortably well-off – having worked for Sony for thirty years inventing and pushing their technological limits, and probably still receiving some royalty payments from that too. If he can afford to defend himself in court with lawyers, he’s not like so many of us struggling to make ends meet. He can still have a very good, comfortable life ahead of him with or without the massive sums of money involved in this case.
But we don’t think about that. Whether he is capable or of sound mind. We just think, “How can Nintendo rip off a disabled guy?” We don’t think maybe the disabled guy knows what he’s doing, why he’s doing it or that he probably knows it’s a long shot. We just take face value. Guy in wheelchair? Needs our sympathy. Got it!
Whether he wins or loses isn’t important. It’s just the cheek of the media to pick up on his disability and play on it, to paint Nintendo as somehow already guilty.
He’s being a dick. The press is being a dick. Nintendo is being a dick. I’m being a dick. We’re all being dicks. It’s time we stopped being dicks.
Focus on the facts. Everything else is just added bullshit to attract attention. Sort of like what I’m doing here.
Told you I was being a dick too…