N.J. Inventor Accuses Sony & Lawyers of Stealing His Controller Feedback Idea, Tricking Him Out of $$$

A New Jersey man filed a federal lawsuit this week against SCEA, SCEI and a number of individual attorneys. The suit, filed by Craig Thorner and his company, Virtual Reality Feedback, makes some very ugly allegations.

GamePolitics has obtained a copy of Thorner’s complaint in which the inventor charges that SCEA, SCEI, PDP/Electro Source and several attorneys colluded to infringe on his controller feedback patents. In a 43-page complaint, Thorner spins a tale of high stakes corporate conniving and reveals a surprising degree of naivete on his part.

As alleged by Thorner, his misadventures with Sony began in 2002 during the famous Immersion vs. Sony patent trial. That case revolved around force feedback controller patents; Sony eventually wound up on the wrong end of an $82 million judgment. Thorner claims that during the lmmersion vs. Sony case he was approached first by Sony and then by Immersion. Acting without an attorney, he eventually licensed his patents to Immersion.

After winning the $82M against Sony, Immersion went after PDP/Electro Source with the same type of force feedback patent infringement claim. At this point, Thorner alleges, Sony was appealing the judgment against itself and PDP faced Immersion’s new complaint. The two companies entered into "a joint defense agreement." 

Ultimately, Thorner blew off his deal with Immersion and licensed his patents to PDP for $150,000. It’s unclear whether Sony and PDP were really interested in Thorner’s tech, or whether he was merely a pawn in their legal defense against Immersion. In either case, Thorner alleges that Sony’s partnership with PDP was hidden from him in order to keep him from demanding a sweeter deal. Once again, Thorner acted without the benefit of legal advice:

Thorner was uncertain about the fairness of the PDP/Electro Source proposal, but could not afford to discuss his concerns with an attorney…  Thorner replied to [PDP’s attorney]… stating that he would accept PDP/Electro Source’s terms if [PDP’s attorney] agreed to assist Thorner with any differences he might have with Immersion and with a trademark cancellation proceeding.

Thorner alleges that, in an effort to conceal its involvement in the deal, SCEA surreptitiously wired PDP the $150,000 payment to pass along to him. A copy of the wire transfer placed into evidence appears to back up Thorner’s version.


Another allegation in Thorner’s complaint concerns his dealings with an attorney who represented Sony:

Thorner, in short, needed counsel but could not afford one. Hence, he asked [Sony’s attorney]: "Who will represent me?"  [Sony’s attorney] responded that he… could represent Thorner… [Sony’s attorney] assured Thorner that he could "wear two hats" and fully represent Thorner’s interests and Sony’s interests at the same time…[Sony’s attorney] promised Thorner that he… would represent him at no cost if Immersion [sued Thorner]…

Eventually, Sony lost its appeal against Immersion. PDP settled with Immersion, which in turn sued Thorner. The inventor alleges Sony reneged on a promise to defend him against Immersion.

DOCUMENT DUMP: Grab a copy of Thorner’s complaint (43 page PDF)

TOMORROW: A federal judge chides Sony’s lawyers for their handling of the Thorner deal.

UPDATE: Law.com has additional coverage.

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