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The future of sex toys is tied up in patent hell

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What does the future of sex look like? If you ask any robotics or tech expert, you’ll likely get one of two answers: 1) freaky-deaky sex robots, and 2) teledildonics. A term often used to describe “social sex toys,” or toys that can be controlled remotely via app or computer, teledildonics has frequently been hailed as the future of the sex toy space. And companies like OhMiBod, which just released the BlueMotion, a toy that lets you control the vibration patterns and pulses of your partner’s vibrator, are already being heralded as leaders in the field.

When it came out back in 2009, the RealTouch (NSFW), a toy that essentially simulates the experience of having sex with a virtual porn star or live model using a Fleshlight-esque device, was considered the future of teledildonic sex toys. There’s just one problem: The RealTouch is no longer being manufactured on the general market, after being sued for patent infringement by a rival sex toy manufacturer.

The RealTouch isn’t the only sex toy company that’s been affected by this issue. According to the blog Future of Sex, lawsuits over patent infringement are extremely common in the teledildonics space, to the point where writer Jenna Owsianik posits that costly legal battles have essentially brought innovation in the field to a halt.

According to Owsianik’s post, the patent for remote-controlled sex toy technology is owned by Vstroker (NSFW), a company that touts itself as “the world’s most advanced virtual sex system.” Basically, the device connects to your Fleshlight and monitors your strokes while you use it. The strokes are then simulated within the virtual content you see on your computer screen.

The original patent for an “interactive virtual sexual simulation system” (it’s actually US6368268, for any patent law nerds out there) was actually filed way back in 1998. Since then, a slew of similar interactive sexual simulation devices, such as the RealTouch and the Pearl, a teledildonic vibrator from the Dutch sex toy company Kiiroo, have also been released on the general market.

The patent for teledildonic sex toy technology is “a pretty wide patent. It’s a really old patent. Nowadays the patent would be more specific,” Toon Timmermans, the founder of Kiiroo, recently told Future of Sex. Timmermans is currently negotiating with the holders of the U.S. patent so Kiiroo can sell its teledildonic products in the United States.

Since then, a number of patents for other, equally cool-sounding interactive sex gadgets have also been filed. (For instance, one was filed back in 2002 for a “Visual remote control and tactile interaction system,” which, despite its lame-sounding name, looks like a pretty awesome two-sided remote-controlled sex machine, if the diagram for the patent is any indication.)

But Owsianik seems concerned that costly and time-consuming legal battles are holding up growth in the field of teledildonics. “Patent rights dashed many people’s wet dreams,” she writes. “And they may still be thwarting innovation for other people who make and use teledildonics.”

Of course, legal battles over patent rights and intellectual property aren’t exclusive to the teledildonics space; such issues would be pretty much par for the course for any emerging field. But given how incredibly popular sex toys are (not to mention how lucrative the adult novelty product market is compared to other sectors of the adult industry), there’s a sizable market for increasingly technologically sophisticated pleasure products. Now that we’re all clamoring for the future of sex and tech, it’s a shame if squabbles over patent rights are actually holding innovation in the field back. 

H/T Future of Sex | Photo by Lianne Viau/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)