The basic concept is simple enough and has been around for years, perhaps decades. Mount a button battery and tiny pager/cellphone vibrator motor on the back of a cut off toothbrush head and you have a cute robot insect that will scramble around providing hours of amusement and entertainment.
Innovation First took the concept to another level, refining the design and adding a lot of character and personality to the robots creating their wildly popular Hexbug line of robotic toys. While the issue of whether or not the Hexbug robots actually inspire kids to get into engineering and science career paths, the toys are pervasive and seem to be on toy and electronic shop shelves everywhere.
Therein lies the problem. Anything that popular, and possibly profitable, that is easy to clone/copy/replicate without a huge investment in development and manufacturing, is bound to attract competitors. That seems to be the situation that Innovation First finds itself embroiled in, and they are taking legal action to defend their turf by filing a patent lawsuit in the U.K. against what they claim to be illegal imitations.
"The products which Innovation First claims were illegal imitations were sold and marketed under the names "Micro-Insect" and "Jitterbugz". Innovation First is asking the court to discontinue the distribution and sale of the products and to grant the company compensation, which may include any profits the defendants have made, or may make, from the sale of the allegedly infringing products."
Assuming that the case isn't settled out of court between the parties involved, it may provide some insight into how valid the company's Hexbug related patents are, especially with respect to prior art.
- How different are the Hexbug designs from earlier robots that were never commercialized?
- How much in the way of unique value and design did Innovation First bring to the product and was it enough to create a defensible patent?
- And, if it is indeed unique, then was it so tightly defined in the patent that the defendants might argue that their products include enough differentiation that they don't actually infringe?
It will be interesting to watch and see how this legal battle plays out, especially considering the potential legal precidents it might establish that could impact other future robot products and designs.