Patent trolls are so prolific these days that you don’t really have to be successful in order to sue. For example, a recently formed California company called TZU Technologies is demanding money from six different players in the barely existent “virtual sex” industry.
TZU uses U.S. Patent No. 6,368,268 to sue six companies working in the field of Internet touch: Comingle, Holland Haptics, Vibease, Internet Service, Frixion and Winzz.
The patent was invented by Warren Sandvick, president of a Texas company called HasSex, who has a extremely troll site and licensed the patent several times. Filed in 1998, and granted in 2002, the patent largely claims a remotely controlled “sexual stimulation system”, one version of which involved a “second user interface” located remotely from the first.
This year, Sandvick apparently sold the patent to TZU, which has bigger plans for the patent. Earlier this week, TZU filed six lawsuits. The defendants include:
Mingle, a company that takes pre-orders for its product, a programmable dildo called the Mod.
Internet Services LLC, which creates RealTouch, a male masturbation device, and also offers the “RealTouch interactive” service. Read it complaint (PDF). RealTouch’s website says the company will close in September, and it has not sold devices since January 2014.
Haptic Holland, which creates the Frebble, a Project supported by Kickstarter this does not suggest anything more salacious than the virtual grip. Frebble’s Kickstarter page suggests that it has just been delivered to Hong Kong-based lenders. Here is the Holland Haptics complaint (PDF), which also names Kickstarter as the defendant.
Winzz, which creates the LovePalz vibrator, another product available for “pre-order”. The author of the sex toy blog Metafetish, who first noted the TZU lawsuits, pointed out that LovePalz said it started shipping products in 2013
, but no one saw the device actually work. Update: Metafetish author Kyle Machulis tells me via email that Winzz shipped the LovePalz toys. “They suck, but they exist,” he says.
Vibease, making it a bluetooth controlled vibrator. It appears to be the only one of the six companies sued by TZU that actually sells a product.
More than anything, the TZU phenomenon appears to be one more data point suggesting that as it becomes harder to win high stakes patent lawsuits, perhaps the best business model for trolls is to seek small payments from ill-equipped companies to afford legal defense. Basic Google-level research suggests that five of those six defendants may not have significant sales at this point.
It is also possible that the original owner of the patent, HasSex, licensed all targets with any value, leaving only a group of perhaps, upcoming and has-been defendants.
TZU is represented by attorneys from the Pasadena-based Cotman IP Law Group, which did not respond to a request for comment on this story.