Nintendo's 3DS targeted in patent breach claim

Nintendo has been targeted by a company which claims it holds a patent on autostereoscopic 3D displays based on optical axes cross-point information, as used in the company's latest hand-held 3DS console.

While on the surface the story appears to be a straightforward and depressingly common patent battle, the story takes an unexpected twist: Tomita Technologies, the company behind the patent, was founded by a 30-year veteran of Nintendo's rival Sony.

Sony, for those who don't follow such things, is Nintendo's only real competition in the hand-held gaming space. Microsoft, which competes with both companies in the mainstream console market, has stated multiple times that it has no intentions to launch a hand-held console beyond its existing Windows Phone devices.

According to copies of the papers obtained by gaming news site Gamasutra, Seijiro Tomita - who has applied for over 100 patents throughout the world, and who is named as inventor or co-inventor on almost 70 patents - is accusing Nintendo of infringing a US patent held by his company on glasses-free 3D display technologies.

The patent - Stereosopic imagine picking up and display system based upon optical axes cross-point information - has several licensees, Tomita claims, but Nintendo isn't one of them.

The method for creating a 3D display described in Tomita's patent certainly matches that used in the 3D display used in Nintendo's hand-held console, but there are questions as to whether Nintendo should be on the hook for any potential infringement: the display was developed by Sharp, with Nintendo simply buying the technology as an off-the-shelf black-box solution. As a result, it seems likely that Sharp, and not Nintendo, should be the target of Tomita's suit.

The reason for Tomita's targeting of Nintendo in the suit, which was filed just two weeks ago and significantly after the launch of the console, seems clear: Sharp sells the displays for around £20 a piece to Nintendo, whereas Nintendo's console retails for ten times that amount. With Tomita asking for damages due to Nintendo's 'deliberate and wilful' infringement, a judgement against Nintendo would give it a significantly bigger pool of money to target.

So far, Nintendo hasn't responded to our request for comment on the case.