Source: Jack Nicas - WSJ
The maker of Polaroid cameras is suing wearable-camera maker GoPro Inc. for allegedly infringing on its patent for cube-shaped cameras, a dispute between old and new in the industry that poses another problem for GoPro’s latest product.
C&A Marketing Inc., the exclusive maker of Polaroid-branded cameras, filed a patent lawsuit against GoPro on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Newark, N.J. C&A alleges GoPro’s Hero4 Session camera illegally copies the design of C&A’s Polaroid Cube camera, for which C&A obtained a U.S. design patent in May. C&A asked the court to halt sales of the Session and award it an unspecified amount of money, including all of GoPro’s profit from the camera.
GoPro said several European Union patents for the Session and a U.S. patent for the Session’s plastic case, all issued in March, show “that GoPro was working on Hero4 Session well before the competitor filed for its patent, which covers its own product—not GoPro’s.” The company said it is still awaiting a U.S. patent for the Session that it applied for last year.
The year-old Polaroid Cube and the four-month-old GoPro Session look like cubes with rounded corners. Both have a camera lens on the front side and large control button on the top. The Session is slightly larger than the 1.4-cubic-inch Cube.
A federal jury now might have to decide whether those similarities mean GoPro infringed on C&A’s design patent, which has just a 12-word claim—“The ornamental design for a cubic action camera, as shown and described”—and seven illustrations of the Cube. C&A, based in Ridgefield, N.J., applied for the 14-year patent in January 2014 and got it in May of this yea. The patent doesn’t mention the size of the camera.
If a jury decides the Session infringes on the patent, what does that mean for other makers of cube-shaped cameras? Fuhu Inc. in El Segundo, Calif., and Chinese camera maker SJCam sell similar cube-shaped action cameras , while Canon Inc. is expected to launch a high-end, box-shaped camera in December for $30,000.
The lawsuit is the latest Session-related headache for GoPro. The San Mateo, Calif., company unveiled the camera, a smaller version of its popular Hero cameras, as its top new product of 2015. But sales have lagged behind expectations, and last month GoPro slashed the price from $400 to $300. Weak Session sales dragged down GoPro’s third-quarter results and fourth-quarter guidance, sending shares plummeting nearly 60% over the past three months .
GoPro Chief Executive Nick Woodman has defended the Session, attributing weak demand to a poorly timed launch, strong competition from other GoPro cameras and an initial price that was too expensive. “If we were to start all over again, what type of a GoPro would we develop? [The] Session. And I stand by it. It’s my favorite GoPro,” he said on the third-quarter earnings call last week.C&A has held exclusive rights to make Polaroid-branded cameras since 2009, a year after Polaroid ceased production in bankruptcy. A parent company called PLR IP Holdings LLC now licenses the Polaroid brand to other businesses.
The Session has higher resolution and frame rates than the $150 Polaroid Cube and has generally received better reviews, though some reviewers have noted its similarity to the Cube.
C&A’s design patent lists the inventor as Gregoire Vandenbussche, a senior industrial designer at San Francisco-based Ammunition LLC, which C&A hired to design the Cube. Mr. Vandenbussche is listed as the co-inventor on design patents for several headphones and speakers made by Apple Inc. ’s Beats unit.