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Gaming giant Valve loses nation’s first virtual patent trial

black xbox controller
February 10, 2021

A Washington federal jury has ordered Valve to pay over $4 million for a plagiarized design element in one of its gaming accessories.

In what was the nation’s first virtual patent infringement trial, conducted entirely via Zoom, the video game company lost to controller maker SCUF Gaming.

The case involved a 2014 patent held by Ironburg Inventions, SCUF’s intellectual property holding company. Ironburg says Valve’s Steam Controller copied the rear-side triggers claimed in its patent.

Back grip controls in Ironburg’s patent (left) and Valve’s Steam Controller (right)

Valve argued it did not infringe upon the patent, which described two separate back controls, while the Steam Controller utilized a single back battery door. To draw its comparison, Ironburg had highlighted two sections of the battery door, but Valve said these “imaginary shapes” did not reflect how the back controls worked.

Ironburg sought damages based on its Microsoft licensing deal for the technology. Also noted was how Valve sold over 1.6 million Steam Controllers between 2015 and 2019, all despite being notified of the Ironburg patent in 2014.

Ironburg likened its case to David and Goliath, considering Valve is a giant in digital game distribution, whose platform serves around 75% of all PC games sales to over 120 million monthly users. “Valve [knew] its conduct involved an unreasonable risk of infringement, but it simply proceeded to infringe anyway … Goliath does what Goliath wants to do,” Ironburg lawyers told the jury.

The $4 million in damages, awarded a week after the remote trial began, is unlikely to dent Valve’s finances, even with possible enhancements. The company is worth $10 billion as of 2019. In fact, Valve is facing a putative class action in California, accusing it of abusing its market power to stifle competition and keep game prices high. The suit, filed Jan. 28, comes on the heels of a €7.8 million fine Valve faced in the EU over its “geo-blocking” practices.

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