Nintendo Patents Reveal Augmented Reality Innovations that Power Pokémon Go

With the recent headlines made by its Pokémon Go smartphone app, Nintendo’s gaming efforts are being revitalized, and the company is demonstrating a shift from its traditional hardware focus into software.  Envision IP analyzed Nintendo’s patent portfolio to see if and how the company is protecting its augmented- and mixed- reality technologies which power titles such as Pokémon Go.

Nintendo currently owns over 70 US patents and 37 pending, published US patent applications related to augmented, mixed, and virtual reality hardware and software. Globally, Nintendo owns over 180 patents and published applications related to the same. These patents include three-dimensional data processing, displaying immersive scenes, creating virtual spaces, motion and movement sensors for portable devices, eye-tracking, and visual data overlays. For example, US 8,922,588, entitled “Information processing program, information processing system, information processing apparatus, and information processing method, utilizing augmented reality technique” relates to creating a virtual image superimposed in a real world scene, as shown in Fig. 10 below:

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Four of Nintendo’s US patents were acquired from Creatures, Inc., a Japanese video game development company affiliated with the Pokémon brand, and which is now a subsidiary of Nintendo. These patents relate to orientation, acceleration, and other sensors for hand-held gaming devices which help in determining a display orientation of a virtual character in relation to the user.

Nintendo began filing patent applications in this space in 2006, with filings peaking in 2011. Since then the company has steadilyy filed new patent applications related to AR, MR, and VR technology.

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Interestingly, Nintendo was granted six patents in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, in collaboration with Silicon Graphics Inc, which relate to three-dimensional and interactive gaming processors and hardware. The patents went through a series of assignments, and are currently assigned to RPX Corporation.

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The company currently owns almost 1,200 active, in-force US patents, up from about 1,000 in 2013 when we last reviewed Nintendo’s US patent portfolio. We identified about 400 patents which were originally owned by Nintendo, and which are now assigned to third-parties (aside from security interests).

While Nintendo continues to re-invent itself with innovative offerings like Pokémon Go, the company has done a good job in obtaining patent protection for its proprietary technologies. Many of its technologies related to immersive display processing and hardware for devices which enable true augmented experiences for users are similar to those technologies found in non-gaming applications of wearable devices and AR glasses.

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