Technology

ITC To Consider Banning Nintendo Switch Sales In The US

Nintendo Switch Sales
Image Source: Nintendo.com (screenshot)

Nintendo Switch sales have topped 4.8 million units in the US since the console’s launch in March last year. The gaming industry has praised the Switch for its modern and unique hybrid design. However, a gaming accessory maker called Gamevice has filed a lawsuit alleging that the Nintendo console violates its patents. At the heart of the lawsuit are Nintendo’s Joy-Con controllers.

The US International Trade Commission (ITC) said in a statement that it had launched an investigation into Nintendo Switch to find out whether it indeed infringes upon Gamevice’s patents. In the worst case, the Nintendo Switch sales could be banned in the US. The ITC lists Nintendo as the respondent, but it doesn’t refer directly to the Switch console. Instead, the ITC says it would investigate into “certain portable gaming console systems with attachable handheld controllers and components thereof.” We know what device it is talking about.

Gamevice has sought a “limited exclusion order and a cease and desist,” which would prevent the import and sale of Nintendo Switch in the US. The ITC noted that though it had launched an investigation, it is yet to rule on the merits of the complaint. Gamevice is the maker of Wikipad, which hasn’t been produced for years. The company makes detachable controllers that you can attach to smartphones and tablets for gaming.

Gamevice’s controllers look different from Nintendo’s Joy-Cons, and are priced in the range of $80-$100. Unlike Joy-Cons, you cannot detach them to use wirelessly. The ITC will hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the Japanese company violated the section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930, with a final decision. It will announce the target date for concluding the investigation within 45 days. Section 337 prohibits unfair trade and competition in imports.

The Nintendo Switch sales are unlikely to be banned in the US, though. Gamevice had also filed a lawsuit against Nintendo in August last year for similar issues. But the accessories maker dropped the suit in October. Nintendo said in a statement to CNet that it had “nothing to announce on this topic.” Gamevice’s Wikipad is an Android-based gaming slate. It has accused that the design of Nintendo’s Joy-Con controllers is similar to its concept of a game controller.

Though Wikipad and Joy-Cons look similar, industry experts believe the lawsuit would hardly constitute a substantial decision. That’s because there are some major differences between the two. The Wikipad controllers clip in, while the Joy-Con’s placement is quite neat. Unlike Wikipad, the Joy-Cons can also be used separately.

Meanwhile, a recent filing with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) revealed that Nintendo could soon fix the wireless connectivity issue with the left Joy-Con controllers. Users have been complaining about the connectivity issue for more than a year. Nintendo previously tried to address the problem via a series of software updates, but to no avail. The FCC filing suggests that the company could soon launch an entirely new version of the Joy-Con controller to fix the issue.

It is unclear when the Japanese company would release the revamped Joy-Cons. The images included in the regulatory filing show a device that looks like Joy-Cons. The photos also show the internal circuit board. When users started complaining about the issue last year, Nintendo said it was not a major issue because the number of repair or replacement requests for the Switch were “consistent with what we’ve seen for any new hardware.”

Recently, noted developer Kate Temkin unearthed an “unpatchable” flaw in the Nintendo Switch that hackers could exploit to run unauthorized code on the Switch. Users can also use the exploit to mod their console to do things that Nintendo restricts them from, such as running custom software, extending the capabilities of the software, and backing up saved games. The flaw lies in the Nvidia Tegra X1 processor that powers all the Nintendo Switch consoles sold so far.

Temkin said shorting out a pin on the right Joy-Con brings the console into USB recovery mode, setting it up for exploitation. The hack works by circumventing the lock-out operations that protect the chip’s bootROM. Sending a misformed packet during the USB recovery mode will allow you to send up to 65,535 bytes of data per request. And it easily gets copied into the application stack, said Temkin. Nintendo or Nvidia cannot fix the vulnerability in consoles that have already left the factory. But the Japanese company could fix the issue in the future units.

Nintendo Switch sales remain strong even though the console has been around for more than a year. Nintendo recently reported that its profits for the FY2017 surged 505% to 178 billion yen ($1.6 billion) due to better than expected Nintendo Switch sales. The company has sold more than 17.7 million Switch units since March 2017, and aims to sell another 20 million units in the current fiscal.

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