Updates on Valve’s Virtual Patent Jury Trial

Ironburg Inventions Ltd. v. Valve Corporation
Case No. C17-1182
United States District Court for the Western District of Washington
Decided: July 19, 2021

On January 5, 2021, the first virtual patent jury trial commenced. Ironburg Inventions Ltd. (“Ironburg”) asserted the now discontinued Steam Controller made by The Valve Corporation (“Valve”) infringed Ironburg’s patent, U.S. Patent No. 8,641,525 (the ‘525 patent). Because the trial was held virtually, each member of the jury was mailed one of the allegedly infringing Steam Controllers.

At trial, much to Valve’s dismay, the jury sided with Ironburg, finding that Valve had willfully infringed on numerous claims in the ‘525 patent. Valve’s counsel argued that the decision would be simple and that merely the patent and the controller were enough evidence for the jury to make the right decision. After the jury found for Ironburg, this argument ultimately hurt Valve when it tried to get the verdict thrown out.

After the trial both parties made post-trial motions. Valve asked for a judgement as a matter of law (JMOL), or alternatively a new trial, which is only granted if the evidence outright does not support the verdict. Unfortunately for Valve, the judge rejected this motion because he agreed with Valve’s argument that the two pieces of evidence were plenty to support a finding, justifying the finding that Valve infringed on Ironburg’s patent and had to pay over $4 million.

Ironburg made a post-trial motion asking for enhanced damages under The Patent Act, which allows the court to multiply damages up to three times to punish willful patent infringement. 35 U.S.C. § 284. Enhancement of damages is discretionary so a court can chose to enhance or not based on all of the circumstances. Here, under all of the circumstances, including that claim 1 of Ironburg’s patent had been declared invalid after Valve requested inter partes review (IPR), the court declined to enhance the damages.

IPR is conducted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) to review the patentability of claims in a patent, only on 35 U.S.C. § 102 and 35 U.S.C. § 103 grounds. These sections relate to availability and obviousness of inventions in art prior to a patent, and make already available and obvious inventions patent-ineligible.

Valve filed a patent application for a new controller in 2018, which was granted in 2020. It is unclear if it will see production considering that the first controller was not a hit with consumers and has now cost Valve over $4 million in court. Also, with the Steam Deck releasing in December 2021, it is possible Valve has moved on to new hardware projects.

We will post updates on any future lawsuits between Valve and Ironburg, as well as any relevant news on Valve’s new controller or the Steam Deck.