You’re all going to need a snack and a drink for this one. Don’t worry – I’ll wait, and the post will still be here once your corn is popped or you’ve mixed the perfect Bloody Mary.
If you follow me on Twitter, you might have caught my brief exchange with a few other bloggers regarding the recent developments in the LELO / Standard Innovation (makers of We-Vibe) patent dispute. Maybe it’s because not very many people are signed up for XBIZ emails, or maybe it’s considered old news since this has been going on for several years. For whatever reason, the dispute really isn’t getting a lot of coverage.
But the reality is, we need to be concerned about this.
The Basics of Patents
In very, very simple terms (because I am not a patent lawyer)… Patents are exclusive rights, usually held for a limited amount of time. Patents were intended to be used by people or companies who invented something. In an ideal world, you would only be able to get a patent on a process, product, or component that you created yourself.
In the world as we know it, that’s not the case. For one thing, there are significant barriers to entry: It costs tens of thousands of dollars to buy the rights to a patent. So in practice, it’s not necessarily the first person or company to create something, but rather the first to shell out for the patent.
Oh, It Gets Worse
A company or individual with enough money can also purchase a patent from someone else. This is how LELO acquired the patent on inductive charging for personal massagers.
On April 28th, XBIZ reported, “The final decision has cleared the path for LELO to seek monetary compensation from Standard Innovation Corp., as well as all distributors and retailers that sell infringing items.”
So? What’s the problem?
Inductive charging uses an electro magnetic field to transfer energy between two objects*. If you’re a sex toy lover like I am, a few toys that fit the bill might immediately come to mind. Interestingly, none of them are LELO’s. Because LELO doesn’t make any toys that charge via induction.
The We-Vibe 3 (pictured above) charges via induction. The charging station uses an induction coil, which produces an electromagnetic field. Energy is then transferred to the We-Vibe 3, which contains a corresponding induction coil. This is wireless charging. Comparatively, the Mona Wave uses a charger which plugs directly into the toy. The Mona Wave is one of their newest toys, so one would think that if LELO wants to incorporate inductive charging into their regime, they’d do it already.
Now, it’s easy to confuse inductive charging with conductive charging. In fact, when I started writing this post, I wasn’t clear on the difference. But now I can tell you! Conductive charging utilizes a metal-to-metal connection. Examples include the Minna Limon, We-Vibe Tango, and We-Vibe Touch (all pictured below).
LELO also doesn’t make any toys that charge via conduction, but I suppose that’s not the crux of the issue presented here.
A History of Disputes
This isn’t the first time that Standard Innovation and LELO have gone head to head. In January 2013, there was a dispute involving We-Vibe 3, and LELO Tiani and Tiani 2. In this case, the dispute was over something more legitimate: The design of the products. Standard Innovation had been making We-Vibe couples vibrators for years, at that point. The design was well-known and considered the first of its kind.
This dispute went on for months, but in June of 2013, Standard Innovation won. You can still purchase a Tiani 3 in Europe and in Canada, but it’s no longer available for sale in the United States (hat tip to Lilly for letting me know about Canada).
Soon after Standard Innovation brought the design dispute against LELO, LELO purchased inductive charging patent and brought the dispute we’re talking about right now against Standard Innovation. What does that look like to you? Because to me, it looks like retaliation. Now, I’m a Scorpio, so I’m no stranger to a good grudge… But this is ridiculous.
How does this affect me?
To put it simply, this is patent trolling. Patent trolling is when a company buys up patents in an effort to collect licensing fees, but does not actually use the patent in their own work. Patent trolling is a big problem in part because it creates a market that’s not very consumer-friendly.
If LELO ultimately wins this dispute (and Standard Innovation is prepared to fight this well into 2016*), then LELO will have grounds to collect licensing fees on We-Vibe products. This goes for Standard Innovation, as well as all retailers and distributors who sell We-Vibe products. They could be raking in a lot of money for something that they had absolutely no hand in.
This wouldn’t only affect products that already exist, either. This blocks innovation. If another company wants to make a vibrator that charges via induction, it better be prepared to pay up. The only way to do that is to make enough money to be able to afford the licensing fees, and that cost is passed on to consumers. If they can’t afford that, oh well – looks like the product isn’t being made or brought to market.
The Bottom Line
I don’t know what the financial situation is for either LELO or Standard Innovation. I may be wrong, but I’m assuming that Standard Innovation is a smaller company. They have a smaller product line, they have only one headquarters, and they’re not blowing a butt ton of money on a B action movie. To me, this looks like a bigger company trying to push around a smaller one. Luckily, Standard Innovation is prepared to fight back.
Personally, I would rather support a company with a small but quality product line up, with excellent customer service and respectable marketing. Wouldn’t you?
EDIT: It turns out that John Oliver recently covered patent trolling. If you’d like to see the sexiest man on television’s take on the matter, click here.