It seems that GoPro just can’t catch a break lately. After whiffing on the launch of the HERO4 Session, GoPro was subsequently sued by Polaroid because the Session rips off the Polaroid Cube‘s design. Then, GoPro had to drop the HERO4 Session price down to half the original retail price in order to move a few units during the holidays. Of course, holiday 2015 sales turned out woefully inadequate and GoPro is now restructuring and laying off employees. Of course, GoPro’s stock is in freefall and now shareholders are filing class action suits against GoPro because they think GoPro has been too optimistic about future sales.
In the midst of all of this turmoil, GoPro was sued by Contour, the bastard of the action camera industry, for patent infringement.
Contour action cameras had a lot going for them in the overall tech and design a few years ago and I thought they were poised to give GoPro a run for its money. As it turns out, they weren’t and Contour fizzled out as a company and it halted operations. Investment firm Clarke Capital bought the Contour company in October 2013 and actually hosted a booth at CES 2014, promising that greater things were to come for Contour action cameras and, with a new surge of cash into the company, we would see it compete head-to-head with GoPro in the action camera industry.
Several months later, Contour unveiled the ROAM3 action camera to lackluster fanfare thanks to rather underwhelming specs. Fast-forward several more months to May 2015, when iON Worldwide, Inc. merged with Contour and began offering Contour branded products alongside its own lineup of action cameras and other digital imaging products. Most importantly, iON Worldwide, Inc. also had access to Contour’s IP portfolio.
In January 2015, Contour filed a lawsuit against GoPro and others that Contour voluntarily dismissed after nearly a year of pre-trial litigation concerning the patentability of certain claims. Contour (now with iON Worldwide, Inc. on board) filed a new Complaint against GoPro on November 30, 2015 in order to realign the parties in the litigation after the merger.
The patents that Contour is claiming were infringed are U.S. Patent Nos. 8,890,954 and 8,896,694, both of which relate to GoPro’s remote viewfinder experience. That remote viewfinder on smartphones and dedicated remotes has been a major selling point and a feature highlighted by GoPro.
Specifically, the lawsuit takes aim at the HERO3, HERO3+ and HERO4 camera lines. In fact, it is a critical feature to the operation of the HERO4 Session, without which, the HERO4 Session is rendered a defunct product.
Contour claims that GoPro’s success is due, at least in part, to the wireless capabilities of its cameras that infringe on Contour’s patents. Moreover, Contour claims that it has been unable to expand its market share due to GoPro’s growth that is partially attributable to Contour’s patented tech. (Of course, Contour might want to release a more marketable camera – but that creates a chicken vs. egg argument…)
For its damages, Contour is seeking triple damages (per statute) for lost profits and reasonable royaties, along with attorneys’ fees and costs, from GoPro for violation of these patents. Additionally, Contour wants the court to issue a preliminary and permanent injunction against GoPro that would bar it from using Contour’s patented tech (i.e., cameras with wireless viewing) going forward.
Why go after just GoPro when so many other companies offer some kind of camera operation with nearly identical functionality?
As Contour puts it, GoPro is the big fish and the damages to be had for infringing these patents are huge because of the shear volume of cameras that GoPro sells with this feature. Sony barely makes a dent in the action camera market compared to GoPro. However, if Contour wins and its patents are upheld against GoPro, you can bet that Sony, Nikon and other manufacturers with cameras that offer remote viewing features covered by Contour’s patents are going to be getting nastigrams from Contour’s lawyers.