Update: The patent is dead now! After you're done reading my rant, check out this post on how to set up your own teledildonics server.

The 268 Teledildonics patent, fucking up internet buttplugs in the US since 1997, expires in a few hours.

My earliest mention of it seems to be from a project announcement I wrote in 2005, so I've been sitting with this for at least 13 years. The open source teledildonics network mentioned in that post never even got started, though now I have Buttplug, which is far more useful.

If you want a brief timeline of what this patent has fucked up, check out this article on FutureOfSex, as well as the recent followup that includes interviews of those affected by the lawsuits. I also recommend reading David Parisi's fantastic work on RealTouch history. Finally, there's an article from today by Maxine Lynn, an Actual IP Lawyer, about the expiration..

After you've done all that, check out this article on VirtuaDolls, one of the lesser covered losses of the patent wars.

Except VirtuaDolls wasn't a victim of the 268 patent, it's another patent on interactive technologies. If you think the end of the 268 patent is the beginning of a sex tech revolution, you're gonna have a Real Bad Time once you find out about all of the provisional patents filed throughout the last few years. Modern sex tech companies have set up an environment of mutually assured legal destruction while making damn sure no new players will rise just because as of 2018/08/17 you can UDP some vibrations to someone somewhere else and not have to pay a license for it in the US.

Don't get me wrong, the expiration of the 268 patent is fantastic, even though it's sad it wasn't brought down through invalidation against prior art like the Wachspress device or the Safe Sex Plus. This is (or, well, was) a patent making it difficult to run a business around a nebulous definition of remote communication, stifling innovation and possibly not allowing important, useful products to make it to market.

However, this is all about US patents. Everything mentioned so far has been about blocking products in one country of 350 million or so people. That leaves ~194 countries and ~7.1 billion other people left to build toys and do whatever with them and maybe just not sell them in the US.

They're definitely out there doing just that.

Ok, not all ~7.1 billion of them, but at least a few.

Companies have been building networks and toys in Europe and Asia. Vibease got out of the TZU 268 lawsuit because they're mostly selling to Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore (and that is one hell of a marketing feat, considering some of the conservative cultures throughout those countries). If you search for "bluetooth vibrator" on AliExpress, it's quite obvious this patent hasn't stopped China from manufacturing all sorts of absolutely wild shit and packaging it with remote control capabilities. Japan had Segment in the late 2000s, has Vorze/Rends now, and probably other companies I'm not even aware of.

None of the products I've encountered have universal praise. Most of them find niche communities of use and that's it.

I'm not aware of any killer app of sex toys or teledildonics that the US is missing out on right now. I'm not sure it requires US innovation to come up with one, either. People in all countries fuck, otherwise there wouldn't be people in all countries. The US doesn't have a monopoly on sexy times, or engineering, or engineering of sexy times.

RealTouch is an example that comes up pretty often when talking about 268 patent losses, but RealTouch was around for years before they released RealTouch Interactive and ran into patent issues. It's not like they had a stranglehold on the market that whole time, or that they were a household name when they were forced out. There's enough people who think we're going to get Jude Law style sex robots next year to fuel constant media articles around it. Patent or no, sex tech remains a fairly unknown field with a small amount of inexperienced companies just putting out what they can 'cause neither the manufacturer nor customers know better, and the customers don't have much choice of what to buy otherwise.

Not only that, teledildonics is remote control of sex toys. What about local control? I would argue that the sex tech engineering community (myself included) sucks at making interfaces period. The Teledildonics patent held up other people controlling your toy, but sometimes you don't have that other person, and there's local interfaces that might be interesting. It's not fair to say that 268 stopped all innovation, but masturbation just doesn't sell as well either.

Even when companies have the money to license the patent in the US, they implement remote control but fuck up on privacy and data storage. This is why there are class action suits against Standard Innovation and Lovense.

Stifling innovation means many people don't want to put in the work because they can't turn their idea into money. In a capitalist society where you pay for your own healthcare, that's literally a question of life and death. It leaves the industry to those that got in early, that start out well off enough to fend off lawsuits, or who are weirdos like me who will happily produce shit and release it for free.

One less roadblock in one country with an admittedly large market presense is good, but it's not a panacea. I'm not even sure it's going to fix much.

Not gonna act like I don't have dreams, though.

I'm probably more realistically optimistic about sex tech now than I've ever been.

Despite the patent there's a lot of commercial companies building products of varying levels of quality now. We've got projects like Open Privacy doing work to create trustable, private networks, and Internet Of Dongs helping companies not fuck up with the security of sensitive data storage.

The biggest blow of the 268 patent, for me, was the loss of potential of companies like Comingle, and that's why I'm glad there's one less weapon for assholes to clear the market with. If we want the singing/dancing/fucking perfectly humanoid sex robots all of the trash media articles say we're getting next year (we're not), we have to start somewhere and work slowly from there.

Comingle was a good start. They wanted to give people a platform to build their own sexual experience without having to start from scratch. I believe we need more educational sex tech, more ways for people to explore their own wants and needs. I want the producers of that tech to worry about ethics and privacy and ergonomics and how we communicate intimacy and consent through the sewer pipes of the internet. I want them free of the burden of winding through a forest of shitty patents, in the US or anywhere else.

I realize a lot of people are angry that RealTouch made a good blowjob robot and you can't get it anymore due to patents and maybe that'll be less of a problem now, but I'd much rather have hundreds or thousands of people educated about sex tech and how to ethically, properly create it. Then they can go on building the next hundreds or thousands of [insert act of sex or intimacy] robot instead.

The 268 patent held back mass market sex tech. While I think there's a lot wrong with mass market sex tech, Buttplug wouldn't exist without it. That said, don't wait on the mass market to free up enough to make your own solutions viable as a product. Sex is extremely personal act, and the internet has proven that almost no one is alone in the way they enjoy it. The most vibrant, interesting sexual communities online never gave a fuck about 268 or any other patent. The energy and excitement of those communities is part of why this blog is still around after all of these years.

Fuck patents. Fuck products. If you're interested in sex tech, find your community. If you have the skills, build with them. Communicate with those building things, because it turns out engineers don't know everything and usually need guidance. Produce one-offs via AdaFruit and Shapeways and Tindie if you have the funds, or set up Patreons or Indiegogos to do small runs, not crazy huge launches. If you're afraid of possible legal repercussions, reach out, to me, to lawyers like Maxine Lynn. You may have less to worry about than you think, but you should do your homework nonetheless.

If you make money, fantastic. If you break even, great. Hopefully you don't lose money on it, but that's definitely the situation to plan for.

Communicate and publish, if you can. Make sure your projects live on somehow. Please tell me when you do so I can yell about your work on here, on twitter, on mastodon, wherever. If you don't want to be the face of it, that's fine, I can work with you on ways to anonymize things. I cannot begin to convey how much interesting, personal DIY sex tech we've lost due to issues of shame and "just anonymously throwing things on a message board thread" that gets pushed down due to history then the board dies.

Don't expect this patent expiration to just solve sex tech and flood the market with perfect products. No one gets magically better at producing sex tech at midnight tonight. There's still a fuckton of work to put in.