Sony, PDP, and Their Lawyers Sued by Force Feedback Engineer Over Alleged Conspiracy

Just when you thought the PlayStation 3 controller was finally free of drama and litigation, Craig Thorner of New Jersey has stepped up to sue Sony Computer Entertainment and controller manufacturer Performance Design Products (who were formerly known as Electro Source). Plus, while he’s at it, he’s decided to sue their lawyers for allegedly conspiring to con him out of a deal for fair payments and royalties.

Thorner, who holds a number of tactile feedback patents, filed his lawsuit on April 21st. Within, he states that the defendants committed fraud and malpractice, among other counts, as they sought to “induce Thorner to grant rights to his patents on unfair terms.”

The complaint states that when Immersion filed their lawsuit against Sony in 2002, one of the latter’s attorneys approached him seeking information about his vibration technology work, believing they could render Immersion’s patents invalid. Nonetheless, Immersion was awarded $82 million in 2004 for the suit.

Thorner says he turned down Sony’s advances, claiming he had neither the resources nor the experience necessary to “license his patents to, or enforce them against, Sony.” Subsequently, he licensed his patents to Immersion in a deal to share revenue, while they in turn would agree to enforce his patents.

Thorner’s suit then alleges that Sony and PDP’s lawyers got together, knowing that his patents could threaten their businesses, and “contrived to take advantage of Thorner’s inexperience and lack of resources in order to (i) obtain a patent license from Thorner on extremely favorable terms, and (ii) induce Thorner to testify against Immersion.”

The complaint further specifies that the two planned for PDP to negotiate a license with Thorner, with Sony believing “it was highly beneficial to have Electrosource [sic] negotiate with Mr. Thorner because if Mr. Thorner was speaking to Sony directly, perhaps he would ask for a much, much higher number.”

The plan, as Thorner puts it, was for Sony to funnel money to PDP so that they would offer him an advance against royalties amounting to $150,000. This benefits Sony, the complaint alleges, “because if Thorner would sue Sony directly for patent infringement, it would have cost ’50 times more in legal fees alone,’ or $7.5 million.”

PDP would also benefit from the alleged setup, since Sony would have externally funded the advance royalty amount. Eventually, Thorner signed the contract offered by PDP.

Now, Thorner is suing both companies for “attorney malpractice, fraud, and conspiracy.” He is demanding damages from Sony and royalties from PDP.