Let’s talk about sex…toys

 In news

There are times when a worried hack opens the laptop with an intake of breath, a fluttering in the stomach and ponders, can I really write about that? Should I go there? Is this wise? My browser search history will be trashed. This is one of those occasions. But I’ve started now and it’s rude not to finish. Probably a relief to get all this sniggering narrative out in one gush.  I’ll tread lightly on the puns and innuendo…maybe.

Let’s start with a basic IP rights infringement case and move on to a couple of stories that will make you think before you kink.

The sex toy industry is reckoned to have a global market worth C. $34 billion U.S. dollars. Forecasts predict it could be worth north of $80 billion U.S. dollars by 2030. It’s big and getting bigger. Moreover, it’s highly innovative. And that means there’s much to protect from get-rich-quick, copyist infringers, including.

  • Brand
  • Design/functionality
  • Trademark
  • Copyright

All of IP exists amid this world of whispers and plain paper packaging.

I’m pickin’ up good vibrations…

There’s a company in Canada founded by a husband-and-wife team in 2003, called Standard Innovation. In short, they conceived, designed, and brought to market a sex toy called We-Vibe. Essentially, it was the first couple’s vibrator. Let’s just say it worked a bit differently from the run of the mill adult toys that preceded it. It was designed to be worn by the couple during sex. It was novel, endorsed by sex educators and won bestselling toy at the Venus awards in Berlin in 2009. So successful was it that, according to reports, it even made it into Oscar-night takeaway goody-bags.  It seems A-listers aren’t always working hard for their charities. There is always time for a slap (obviously) and a maybe a tickle.

Inevitably, along came another company, in this case LELO Inc., with a similar design. An IP spat ensued. It was a tussle that was, frankly, a bit up and down. Standard Innovation tried to stop imports of the LELO product through the U.S. International Trade Commission. It succeeded in 2013. Two years later this decision was reversed, by the U.S Court of Appeals. A bitter disappointment for the appellant but they marched on, without stopping to change the batteries, through the senior U.S. courts culminating in a recent $12.8 million-dollar, jury-awarded, damages win against LELO this summer. We-Vibe is unique, and the court held, its IP rights had, indeed, been breached by LELO.

Given 4 million We-Vibes were sold by 2015, the IP landscape looks clear for them to take digital intimacy to the next level. But it’s not all plain sailing, or plain anything. It would appear there are other problems with hands-free remote sexual arousal gadgets other than ‘snide’ knockoffs. As Standard Innovation found out when they launched that wedding-list favourite, the We-Vibe 4 Plus smart vibrator.

She’s giving me the excitations

Blame the internet of things and Big Data. No one really understands how they work so why not? Turns out, that would be a good call.

You see, whilst customers were using the product, one assumes in blissful ignorance, it was recording intimate details of their usage through a connected smart-phone device. A bit like a pervy Elexa. The company’s defence was it wanted the data for “diagnostic” purposes. Naughty said the court. They breached data protection laws in their quest to bump the asset value of their business via data capture. A gizmo being price ‘X’ and a gizmo that captures data being price ‘X+’.

These data can be harvested and sold on as an added value proposition company to company. Once this practice was rampant. And so, the law stepped in to offer protection to the individual caught up in the corporate crossfire. Collection and use of personal data needs to be fair and lawful falling within specific grounds for collecting such data. Boring it may be, but you can see why it was needed.

 I know why the caged bird sings…

And then there was this…enter the world of chastity devices if you dare. You are forgiven immediately if you have no idea what this is. It’s all to do with ‘chastity play’. A case in these murky waters broke this month. It will probably put you off something you’ve never thought about – which is a neat trick.

The electronic devices in question are, commonly (though, perhaps one hopes, not too common) harnesses, cages, and straps that one partner wears to be controlled by the other remotely. Without further detail, it’s connected, so to speak, to arousal control. Enough said.

Anyway, the thing is, do-good hackers have exposed the fact that password security for these devices is woeful. To such an extent that the manufacturer’s servers have uncovered over 10,000 of its user’s personal data including information which can identify them such as email and home addresses, plain text passwords, and GPS coordinates. It’s not the mechanics of the device giving you a red face.

An old Ford car…won’t go that far…

In the words of the late Jacqueline Gold, CEO of Ann Summers:

“It’s fantastic that people are adventurous – but they need to be careful.”

Well said Jacquie. Taking the automobile analogy, how many of you know what all the gadgets do in your new EV? Thought so. Time to get the manual out, or better, buy a mark 1 Cortina. Average performance but it’s for your own protection.

Murray Fairclough
Development Underwriter
OPUS Underwriting Limited 
+44 (0) 780 145 9940


Recent Posts