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Nikon Wins 1.5 Billion Yen in Lawsuit Against Sigma Over VR Patent Infringment

By Anthony Thurston on March 11th 2014

Seems like every week there is some new lawsuit being levied or being won with regards to the photo industry. This week, we have the results of a lawsuit that we first told you about just over a year ago in which Nikon was suing Sigma over its VR technology.


In case you need a quick refresher, Nikon took Sigma to court over the image stabilization technology in 6 of Sigma’s lenses. Nikon has patents protecting its VR (Vibration Reduction) technology and they determined that Sigma’s Optical Stabilization (OS) was infringing on their patent. Initially, they tried to negotiate a deal, but were unable to come to terms with Sigma, so they opted to sue.

Well, the verdict has come in and a Tokyo District Court has ordered Sigma to pay Nikon $1.5 Billion Yen (roughly $14.5 million dollars). While this may seem like a big loss to Sigma, they actually got off pretty easy when you see that Nikon originally asked for 12 Billion Yen (roughly $116 million dollars).

What do you think of Nikon's award from their lawsuit against Sigma?

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What do you think of the award Nikon received? Is Nikon in the right for defending their tech or is this just a case of Nikon bullying Sigma? Share your comments below to join the discussion.

[via Nikon Rumors]

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Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. josh

    This reeks of a classic patent troll situation.

    Nikon, Canon, Sigma, Tamron and Panasonic all use some form of OS, VR, IS, etc in their lenses… It’s all the same concept but with different names because they each have their own patents for the technology. People think that patents are always very specific and don’t overlap but they do ALL THE TIME.

    Tech companies sometimes make it a point to try and get their patent approved in as vague a description as possible specifically so they can pull this kind of move. They stock pile vague tech patents and then go after smaller companies and try to force them into “buying a license” to use their patents, even if the smaller company already has their own patent that covers them.

    Usually the smaller company will just buy the license to avoid the court fight they can’t afford. That almost happened in this case actually except Nikon was a bit too aggressive so Sigma balked and took it to court.

    The ironic part about this is that Nikon has actually been the victim of this before from the biggest Patent Troll in the game, Intellectual Ventures:

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    • Steve

      I hope they can sort out my d600 problem.

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  2. Robynn

    I think there is some confusion about patent law in general by the results of the poll and the comments. Maybe as photographers, readers might understand it in a form of copyright law (a cousin of patent law in a sense) instead. Say for example that you took a photograph that was absolutely amazing and had the potential to make a huge amount of money, and knowing that it was such an amazing original piece of art, you filed for a copyright on it so that you would be able to enjoy all the legal remedies of copyright infringement available to registered copyright owners. Not to long after you see some huge advertising mogul has stolen your photo, maybe photoshopped it a little bit, and is now making hundreds of thousands, if not more, in profit from YOUR image! I know most photographers would be livid. You can send the company a cease and desist letter, but what about all that money that they made off that photo that you could have earned? After all it was your investment in your equipment, your time, your creativity and some jerk just went and snagged it. As a copyright holder, you would take them to court for damages, to the tune of what statute allows and/or actual loss to you.

    Now consider that the cost to make that image could be considered the investment in your equipment, the filing fee for your copyright and any time and money in marketing. There might be some cost I’m forgetting. Now try to picture that costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, which you invested because you stood to make millions on that one idea, that one image only to have someone else cashing in on your investment, your creativity, your time and energy.

    Photography is a field of intellectual property. Why is it that photographers are so adamant about protecting their intellectual property, but when it comes to the intellectual property of the companies that make their work possible, they venomously attack those same rights?

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    • Paul

      Problem is in the last 10 to 20 years they have been given patents out like candy…they are used and trolled to block competition and worse yet the very invitation, that they were meant to protect.

      At some point all technology has shared others inventions! Lets draw the line at truly initiative break throughs and yes I thought Canon had the first version in the 1990s.

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  3. Holger

    I’m confused.
    For one, I thought, between the Japanese companies there is not the hassle as you know between Apple and others.
    On the other hand I had in mind that Canon has sold the first IS-lenses for SLR.

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  4. David H

    Patents have no value unless they are licensed or protected via a lawsuit. So Nikon had to sue to protest themselves. If Nikon has already licensed the patent to other companies, then Nikon had to sue to maintain the economic vitality of the patent. It’s kind of a all or nothing situation, for the patent to have value you have to protect it. Once you start protecting it, you need to always protect it. The patent holder can’t allow some infringement and expect others to respect the patent.

    I remind all my customers, when they talk about filling for a patent, that a patent offers NO protection against infringement. Only a successful defense of the patent in court offers protection.

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    • David H

      2nd line should say “protect themselves”. autocorrect……

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  5. david

    According to this post, there are two specific patents Sigma infringed on relating to zoom lenses:

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  6. Ryan Cooper

    I’m a little confused on this one, is there something Sigma did that made their stabilization inherently similar to Nikon’s? Most lens manufacturers do image stabilization now, I know Nikon did it first though, is everyone else paying Nikon royalties to avoid a lawsuit?

    Also, while $14.5 million may seem like a lot of money to us in the great big scheme of things it is really just slap on the wrist for Sigma. They probably plan for as much or more in patent crap every year already.

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    • LPMurph

      I suspect there had to be something obviously similar. I understand in these cases that usually damaged are inflated when filed because you are never awarded 100% of the damages. I agree that this is obviously a slap on the wrist and taking lunch money from sigma.

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  7. Ja

    “Nikon obtained the patent related to VR technology in 2002.”

    Why can Nikon sue Sigma, when my Olympus C-2100UZ bought in 2001 has Optical Stabilization?

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    • Ryan Cooper

      Nikon created the first stabilized lens in 1994, it just took until 2002 for the patent to be awarded.

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