Valve have been ordered to pay $4 million in damages for allegedly infringing patents with the Steam Controller. Ironburg Inventions, the patent holding company for controller brand SCUF Gaming, alleged that they warned Valve of the infringement in 2014.
Ironburg were awarded a patent in 2014 for a controller that "has two additional controls located on the back in positions to be operated by the middle fingers of a user." The Steam Controller had buttons on its rear in that position.
SCUF Gaming are the makers of custom controllers, several of which feature remappable buttons on the back as per the patent.
“Valve did know that its conduct involved an unreasonable risk of infringement, but it simply proceeded to infringe anyway — the classic David and Goliath story: Goliath does what Goliath wants to do,” Ironburg’s lawyer argued, as reported by Videogames Chronicle.
This argument would probably sound better if SCUF and Ironburg Inventions hadn't both been bought by hardware giant Corsair last year. They're quite the Goliath themselves.
Patent stories like this always seem a shame to me. A big company shouldn't be able to copy and profit from the work of a smaller one, but the concept of "buttons on the back of a controller" ought to be too broad and obvious to be granted a patent. The Steam Controller execution of that idea also looks to me to be different than SCUF Gaming's, in form if not function. I wasn't on the jury for this trial, though.
I've got a soft spot for my Steam Controller, though mostly because my kid, when he was littler, liked the "di-do di-do" bleeps it would make when you turned it on. Otherwise I haven't used it in years. Valve discontinued the controller in 2019.