“D’oh!” The Simpsons are sued for Homer’s hologram

You may be familiar with Comic-Con, a worldwide organization that runs conventions for comic fans, made famous by geeks in dress up and legendary guest stars. Well, last month’s San Diego Comic-Con was made famous for another reason – a holographic appearance by Homer Simpson has led to The Simpsons being sued for patent infringement. D’oh indeed.

On 26 July 2014, The Simpsons creator Matt Groening chatted with “Homer” for a few minutes, delighting the sold-out crowd with his ‘various witty remarks’ (yes, that is a Simpsons reference). It did not however, delight one Alki David, owner and CEO of Hologram USA, an exclusive licensee of two “hologram” technology patents (‘519 and ‘212 patents). His company and the owners of those two patents (Musion Das Hologram Ltd (MDH) and Uwe Maass) have now sued for patent infringement. This is not the first time Mr David has ‘sued’ a famous hologram. He also sued the creators of Michael Jackson’s hologram for his posthumous performance at the recent Billboard Awards.

Basically, holograms are three-dimensional “life-like” images that can interact with live performances or people, and are usually produced by the use of lasers and other light technology. Holograms were probably made most famous by the appearance of “Tupac” (a deceased rapper) at the 2012 Coachella festival (check it out on Youtube here), however holograms claim their origin back to 1862, with the illusion technique known as “Pepper’s Ghost”. Created by Ian O’Connell and James Rock, this illusion projects an image of an object upon an inclined, partially reflective screen to give a false perception of depth. The patent for the projection apparatus and method for Pepper’s Ghost Illusion (‘212) was issued in 2011 and in fact assigned to MDH, the second Plaintiff to this action, in 2013.

The Californian lawsuit, which is available in PDF form here, alleges that Twentieth Century Fox and Gracie Films, along with other “Doe Defendants”,* did not obtain a license or any other authorisation to use the patented technology for the performance. In particular, the Plaintiffs claim that the ‘519 patent, a device for displaying moving 3D images in the background of a stage, was infringed by the Defendants by their improper and unauthorised use of the technology to create the hologram-like image of Homer Simpson on stage. Similar infringement allegations were made for the ‘212 patent, a projection apparatus and method for Pepper’s Ghost Illusion. The Plaintiffs claim that the Defendants wilfully and deliberately infringed these patents, and this has caused monetary loss and irreparable damage. We are yet to see the Defence to this action.

Let’s hope the Defendants don’t ask Lionel Hutz to represent their legal interests.

* Note: this is not an intentional Simpsons reference. It is the fictitious name the Plaintiffs used to describe the unknown Defendants who allegedly induced or contributed to the infringing action.