A Wii Legal Action: Publicity For Simplicity

Finally, a fight over remote controls that rely on hand motion, more than buttons.Oh, Nintendo’s Wii has about a half-dozen buttons, plus a four-cornered “plus sign” for directional instructions.

Finally, a fight over remote controls that rely on hand motion, more than buttons.

Oh, Nintendo’s Wii has about a half-dozen buttons, plus a four-cornered “plus sign” for directional instructions.

Well, Hillcrest Labs of Rockville, MD, can top (actually, undercut) that. It markets a “freespace” remote for TV that looks like an overgrown bracelet. Users wave it through the air and touch just two buttons. All the choices are shown on screen.

Maybe because it’s too simple, it hasn’t gotten traction with cable television operators, its target market. Its most visible customer: Logitech, for its Air Mouse (read the fine print).

Most of us instead suffer from button fatigue. The cable TV remote in your household is probably like ours: More than three dozen buttons for basic controls, another nine or so for digital recording controls. Next to the cable TV remote, there are another 30 buttons on the remote that control the audio functions of a speaker setup and an astounding 50 buttons on the control for a combination VCR and DVD player.

So something that you can just wave at the screen and tell to click that or stop that would be a welcome relief.

But the legal action that Hillcrest Labs announced this afternoon does not seem like it’s advancing the market for simple remote controls. Instead, it sounds like promotion. You might almost think of it as publicity for simplicity.

Hillcrest claims three patents that “relate to a handheld three-dimensional pointing device” and one which “relates to a navigation interface display system that graphically organizes content for display on a television.”

Hard to tell at this point whether there is much merit to the complaint made to the U.S. International Trade Commission and the suit filed in Maryland District Court. Hillcrest is not talking beyond its official statement and Nintendo has yet to respond.

Nintendo has been nicked once before, for infringement involving a Wii controller. A federal court ruled that Nintendo must pay $21 million to Anascape Ltd. For violating its patents.

So now comes Hillcrest, to try and get its piece of the rapidly growing Wii pie. Or, at least, get its name in the same sentence with Wii, for a news cycle or more.

Just wondering if Hillcrest would be announcing taking the tack, if there were more announcements here about remote controls based on its technology actually appearing in homes across the country, courtesy of cable and satellite TV providers trying to serve their customers.

But so far, it has mainly been able to announce that a big supplier of remotes to the cable industry has a license to use the Freespace technology.

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