In late October, tech media publications were reporting that Japanese home gaming entertainment company Nintendo Co. (TYO:7974) announced that its newest gaming console, the Nintendo Switch, would be released in March 2017. The news also included updated information about the console, which provides both mobile gaming and home television platforms and more flexible controller options. Players will be able to remove a tablet device from the console to play games on the go and can remove controller components from the tablet to enable multiplayer games on the mobile platform.
Other reports of a patent application filed by Nintendo this June with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has led to some speculation that the Nintendo Switch might include virtual reality (VR) components. U.S. Patent Application No. 20160361640, entitled Supporting Device, Charging Device and Controller System, claims a game controller supporting device for first and second game controllers, both controllers having rail members for attaching to the supporting device and the supporting device having a main portion with grips for two hands. The invention results in a new supporting device for portable information processing devices with a holding mechanism which reduces the possibility that the supporting device won’t hold the information processing device properly. One of the diagrams attached to the patent application describes a head-mounted display (HMD) used as an accessory of the main unit which allows a user to interact with a virtual space.
There are 123 U.S. patent grants and another 120 U.S. patent applications related to virtual reality headsets, according to the patent portfolio analysis tools available through Innography. With 14 IP assets in this sector, Nintendo hold third place in this sector. Leading Nintendo is American social media giant Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB), which holds 22 IP assets in the VR headset space. In second place with 20 VR headset IP assets is Bellevue, WA-based intellectual property licensing firm Intellectual Ventures.
Although the patent space surrounding VR headsets still looks very open, it’s interesting to note that Nintendo has an early lead over other top tech firms which have reportedly been working on their own virtual reality technologies. Fourth place in the VR headset space is Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) which owns nine IP assets in the sector. This total seems low given Microsoft’s work on developing its HoloLens mixed reality platform. Trailing closely behind in fifth place is Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOGL) with seven IP assets in the sector. Again, given research and development conducted by Alphabet’s Google subsidiary for its Google Glass head-mounted device, it’s interesting to see that the company hasn’t invested heavily in the virtual reality headset space. Following further behind in seventh place is Japanese electronics conglomerate Sony Corp. (NYSE:SNE). Tied in eleventh place are Intel Corp. (NASDAQ:INTC) of Santa Clara, CA, and the Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) of Burbank, CA.
Facebook lead in this sector isn’t surprising given the corporation’s acquisition of virtual reality developer Oculus in March 2014 for $2 billion. At Facebook’s most recent F8 developers conference this past April, company executives unveiled a new VR experience known as Facebook Surround 360 which would allow users to capture scenes which could be shared as three-dimensional moments, offering an immersive VR experience to headset users. In the middle of December, Oculus announced the unveiling of a new social VR environment called Rooms with which headset users can interact with others using supported headset platforms.
Intellectual Ventures, which is known for regularly asserting its patents against alleged infringement, has engaged in some legal activities in recent years involving its VR patents. In October 2011, Intellectual Ventures asserted a series of patents against Japanese imaging developer Nikon Corp. (TYO:7731), including patents directed at virtual reality image capacity, against cameras and digital photo editing software marketed by Nikon. In May 2014, a federal jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware (D. Del.) handed Intellectual Ventures a victory in a patent infringement case against Canon Inc. (NYSE:CAJ), another Japanese-based imaging tech developer, in a suit involving six U.S. patents, one of which was directed at a virtual reality camera.
2016’s Consumer Electronics Show set the stage for a new wave of virtual reality technologies which could sweep across the market in the years to come. Revenues in the global market for virtual reality technologies could increase rapidly very soon. Online statistics portal Statista published a forecast for the virtual reality market predicting that global revenues should increase from $90 million USD in 2014 up to $5.2 billion in 2018.